Let us celebrate Black History Month together across Virginia as a community committed to embracing diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging! Placemaking inspires people to collectively reimagine and reinvent public spaces as the heart of every community, spaces that can serve all members of the community, tell a fuller American story and promote positive change. Here are a few placemaking projects that foster and elevate the shared history and contributions by African-Americans, as part of our collective American history.
On Gloucester Main Street, a mural honors and celebrates the life and legacy of one of Gloucester County’s most notable historical figures. Commissioned in 2019, the Cook Foundation honors the man widely known as Virginia’s “Black Governor,” Thomas Calhoun (T.C.) Walker. Born a slave before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, Walker grew up to become the first African-American to practice law in Gloucester County. The highly detailed work of art raises awareness, encourages pride in the community and recognizes the remarkable journey of Walker’s life that serves as a tremendous example of determination and accomplishment.
In his life, Walker served as a passionate teacher, lawyer and government official. Notably, President Roosevelt appointed Walker as the advisor and consultant of Negro affairs for the Virginia Emergency Relief Administration, and it was this appointment that earned him the nickname “Black Governor” of Virginia. As a passionate public servant, Walker maintained a strong admiration for education, and he went on to become a superintendent for Gloucester Negro Schools before he passed in 1953 at the age of 91. If you would like to learn more about T.C. Walker’s life, click here!
This project makes a virtual spin of placemaking! While currently accounting for only one percent of storytelling experiences consumed by viewers, Virtual Reality (VR) technology will be an important tool to watch for virtual tourism in the future. A team of three friends launched a pilot project, called Hidden in Plain Site (HiPS), in January 2021 after seeing a void in storytelling that could bring to life historic sites whose context was compromised by demolition and urban renewal.
Dontrese Brown, David Waltenbaugh and Dean Browell collaborated with the Black History Museum of Virginia, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to explore VR as a tool for encouraging empathy by overlaying historic photographs of “hidden places” at the crux of Richmond, Virginia’s black history. This technique is especially powerful for touring sites that had been cleared for development and left vacant. As the project progressed, parking lots were places that were regularly associated with stories and truths that evoked the most pain.
The HiPS pilot was self-funded and has allowed the team to lay out a repeatable process for partnership development and producing compelling content. They’re now looking for more places and partners with stories to tell and to grow the project wider, achieving greater social impact. To learn more and to track the progress of the project, follow HiPS via social media on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.
LOVEOrangeVirginia collaborated with the Orange County African-American Historical Society (OCAAHS) to conceive a park that illuminates the history of the Town of Orange’s former African-American commercial district, as well as commemorate the contributions of local African-Americans. Other allies in this effort are the Town of Orange, Orange County Tourism Office and the Dolley Madison Garden Club.
For nearly 100 years, the site of the project comprised an African American residential neighborhood and successful business district, which contributed greatly to the economic success of the town. In the mid 1900’s, this area was disrupted by the creation of a bypass to accommodate freight trucks and consequently cut the town in half. The negative affect was almost immediate, as the majority of these Black-owned businesses closed their doors and their owners moved away.
Once completed, the park will be a revered, accessible gathering spot for residents and visitors to learn and reflect on lessons of the past, as well as possibilities for the future. The design features beautiful landscaping, comfort amenities and a series of three interpretive panels with QR codes to access stories and multimedia. The park will be activated for Orange’s annual Juneteenth celebration, informal Poetry Jams, buskers and storytellers.
The park is partially funded by a $25,000 Downtown Investment Grant awarded by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) through the Virginia Main Street (VMS) Program. The project is on track for a groundbreaking event February 14 and a ribbon cutting in time for Juneteenth, June 19. To learn more about the upcoming events go to www.loveorangevirginia.org.