Preserving the tapestry

Published 9:39 pm Monday, June 1, 2009

In an area with a heritage as rich as that of Hampton Roads, it’s not surprising to find people who are a bit obsessive about history. From Native Americans who can trace their ancestry back to Powhatan’s mighty tribes to the descendants of America’s first families, from the Daughters of the American Revolution to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, there are many groups in the area that cling proudly to the heritage of their forebears.

With its own long history and a preponderance of old-name families, whose roots still are fixed firmly in the city’s soil, Suffolk surely has its share of people who keep one eye on the past while the other looks toward the future.

Last week, this newspaper profiled one such character, David Tatum of White Marsh Road, who may well be considered an extreme example of the class. His self-built Confederate monument, his working canon and the Confederate shrine he keeps inside his home probably come across to some folks as a bit over-the-top.

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But Tatum’s dedication to preserving the history of his family’s involvement in the Civil War is really just different in scale from similar efforts by groups ranging from the Suffolk-Nansemond Historical Society to the CE&H Heritage Foundation. Like those groups, Tatum hopes to preserve and defend his heritage from the ravages of time.

Another group was formed recently in Chuckatuck Village to accomplish a similar goal. The Chuckatuck Historical Foundation is working to gather as much information as possible about the village’s history from interviews with longtime residents and by combing official records.

As Suffolk continues to grow and change, the work of such groups — and even individuals like Tatum — will grow ever more important. Without their work, the city risks losing its identity, sacrificing some of the qualities that set it apart from the rest of the urban area that is Hampton Roads. The stories they will save through their efforts are part of Suffolk’s rich tapestry; without them, the city’s history would be but a threadbare rug waiting to be replaced by a mass-produced, characterless version that could have been bought anywhere.