Sunday, October 14, 2018

(I must learn the name of this brilliant artist)
After more than a dozen years on the job, I finally hit the place so long dreamed of ...

My audience held a black majority made up of local people for the first time.

I knew that we were expecting a group of 30 at my two o'clock talk, and I'd questioned the wisdom of allowing such a large group to reserve seats in a little theater that only holds 50 people at-a-time, and when -- since Saturday talks are by far the most popular -- (we're currently "sold out" into late November!).  In addition, I'm in the theater on both Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Saturday continues to be the day and time most in demand.

When I asked why such a large group had been allowed to take up most of the seats when I'm perfectly willing to schedule (at a separate day and time) for such, no one seemed to have the reasons just why that was.  I quietly thought about it for all of a hurried 5 minutes, and decided that -- for today we'd simply go with it, and then tighten up the process in the future.

Imagine my surprise when shortly before walking down the back stairway to head for the theater, I happened to look through the gallery window and catch out of the corner of my eye a large gathering of African American women approaching the entrance to the Visitor Center.  I realized that this was my audience for "Of Lost Conversations," and that, since the arrangements had been made by telephone, apparently someone knew but had quietly made the exception.  And I was so grateful, for whatever reason.

Add to that the fact that these were mainly women of the Richmond community, people I'd tried to reach out to for more than a decade, but until this moment had failed to attract, at least in significant numbers.

Given that the black home front history in this city is so important, and without it there is simply no way to account for the demographics of Richmond in the years following the end of WWII.  In the year 2004 when I moved to Richmond, the African American population was at 40% with the Latino population at 20%.  Those  numbers have since reversed, largely due to an in-migration over the decade plus gentrification due to economic factors.  It's complicated.

And of course there are the little known facts that the SS Harriet Tubman, the SS Ethiopia, the SS John Hope, the SS Robert S. Abbott, the SS George Washington Carver, five historically black colleges, etc., were all built and launched in the Kaiser shipyards, and that few were aware of it until now.  That 17 victory ships had been named for noted African Americans, and that not only our children had no knowledge of that history, but those who teach them have been completely unaware, at least until this national park was created to honor it.

Without changing a word.  With no compromise because of the racial makeup of my audience, yesterday I was able to share those stories with 30 black women of the community mixed in with members of the general public!  What an honor ... .  In today's audience were the direct descendants of that generation, yet the City's memory has excluded their history from curricula taught in schools so that their children and grandchildren are bereft of the pride those stories would surely have inspired.

I could see the pride in those faces yesterday; see the lights go on behind eyes so long blinded by the lack of inclusion in the nation's narrative.  I wanted to savor it; to linger with them in that place where I'd worked so hard for so many years to achieve.

But it was not to be.

David was waiting in the parking lot to take me home in time to meet Dorian for our usual weekend Disney film on Netflix ... and this day would have made a history of its own in my personal narrative, and that should be enough,  at least for now.

Maybe it's in the Disney-fication of our democracy that the problem lies.

I need to think on that ... .