Landscapes of Slavery and Segregation

Sep 7, 2016

A new three-part exhibit in Charlottesville brings attention to what it’s calling the “Landscapes of Slavery and Segregation.” As WMRA’s Sefe Emokpae explains, it’s all part of the 50th anniversary celebration for the National Endowment for the Humanities.

AUDIO FROM EXHIBIT:  [Landscapes of slavery and segregation.]

For the next month, visitors walking along the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville will be able to step into history with a new exhibit on slavery in the Commonwealth.

PETER HEDLUND: It's six panoramic photographs depicting what we’re calling “Landscapes of Slavery” mostly in Central Virginia.

Peter Hedlund is the lead technologist at Encyclopedia Virginia, a project of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. As Hedlund explains, the exhibit not only features a visual component, but an auditory one as well.

HEDLUND: We have voices that you can access by either dialing a number or going to a mobile website and so you can hear people talk about how slavery is being remembered or isn't being remembered today.

AUDIO FROM EXHIBIT:  [My name is Joe McGill. I am founder of the Slave Dwelling Project. I noticed a void in the antebellum buildings that we choose to preserve. They usually include the house on the hill and they're usually white men associated with these spaces. And most often these white men were slave owners—and those are the lives that we talk about when we talk about these buildings.]

The six photos on the mall include images from slave dwellings in various locations including James Monroe’s Highland and James Madison’s Montpelier -- all major tourist attractions in Central Virginia.

HEDLUND: When tourists come to Charlottesville, I think they think about Thomas Jefferson, they think about James Madison, they think about James Monroe. Those are important historical figures in the founding of this nation but we are trying to show that there's another layer of history that exists that until recently has not been interpreted, has sort of been swept under the rug.

The exhibit on the Downtown Mall is just one-third of the project. The landscapes theme can also be visited at the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which shows images of Vinegar Hill decades after slavery, and depicting the landscape of segregation.

AUDIO FROM EXHIBIT:  [Vinegar Hill, 1963. This installation captures a day in the life of the Vinegar Hill neighborhood two years before its demolition.]

HEDLUND: This was a landscape of people who were told they weren't allowed to live in their homes anymore, those homes were all destroyed and so we hear their voices in that part of the exhibit too at the Jefferson School.

AUDIO FROM EXHIBIT:  [My name is Emma Lewis. I went to Jefferson and we had wooden stoves, iron wooden stoves and they kept you very warm. But at night when that fire go out and when you get up in the morning it's cold, so we wouldn't get out of bed until the fire, til mama put wood in the stove until it got warm and then we'll get up.]

The exhibit rounds out with a walking tour of the Academical Village on UVA grounds as it relates to slavery. The project in its entirety is part of “Human/Ties” the 50th anniversary celebration for the National Endowment for the Humanities. In addition to “Landscapes” the celebration will feature a series of events in Charlottesville from September 14 through 17.