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Preservation of historic sites bridges divide

By Latasha Drax

Held at the historic Fort Monroe on Aug. 11, the first Virginia Black Cultural Preservation Summit brought together community residents, government officials, educators and historians  to discuss the importance of preserving the culture and history of African-American sites.

Delegate Delores McQuinn, chair of the Virginia General Assembly African-American Cultural Resources Task Force, hopes the preservation of African-American sites and cultural heritage resources will encourage “racial healing and racial reconciliation” across the state and nation. In partnership with the Virginia Humanities Foundation, Virginia Department of Historic Resources and Preservation Virginia, the task force will also be a vehicle to develop “accessible databases that will elevate and inform” future generations.

Sen. Mamie Locke, a member of the Task Force and supporter of House Bill 2296 (initiated by McQuinn to organize, execute, plan and identify African-American sites, places and people), encouraged those in attendance to be active participants in the initiative to preserve African-American history across the state.

Yet the potential impact of this effort is much more expansive. Brent Leggs, director of the African American Cultural Heritage Fund, stated that preservation empowers black youth and offers “a rich historical narrative that extends far beyond the typical stereotypical dichotomy that has come to superficially define the black experience in America.”

The weekend the summit was held marked the first anniversary of the Charlottesville rally that heightened racial tensions in Virginia and across the nation. The presence of Confederate statues continues to be a topic of debate and division. Opponents argue that the statues are symbolic of prejudice and injustice in the United States, while others contend that removal of the monuments will not erase history.

Leggs said, “You can tell the identity of a nation by the places we honor and preserve.” Cultural preservation of African-American sites is a step towards countering misrepresentation or the exclusion of  the black identity within the fabric of American culture.

“The black experience is partly about racial inequality, but we are more than descendants of slaves, we are a direct reflection of their dreams and aspirations,” Leggs continued. “This is the balance, memories of injustice, memories of achievements.”

The Virginia Black Cultural Preservation Summit can be seen in its entirety on the Virginia Humanities Facebook page.

For more information about the Virginia Humanities Changing the Narrative project to address the current challenges of racism and bias in Virginia, go to www.virginiahumanities.org.

Latasha Drax lives in Hampton. Contact her at latashadaneille@gmail.com.