Here’s a guest-post from my friend Kenny Hung, who lives in New York City but recently took a trip south to Richmond, Virginia.
“I recently had the good fortune of being invited to a wedding in the beautiful city of Richmond, Virginia. It must be said that I only had two recollections about Richmond prior to this trip. The elementary school version of me recalled it being the last interesting bathroom break until Savannah, Georgia on a long drive down I-95 from NY to Disney World. The middle school version of me recalled it being the answer to some question on some exam about some Civil War. Suffice it to say, I was very much looking forward to exploring this former capital of the Confederacy, and ended up having a wonderful time. The wedding was lovely (fried green tomato hors d’oeuvres are a revelation!), the people were friendly, and the architecture was gorgeous. In between gorging myself on buttery biscuits and savory Virginia ham, we had the opportunity to explore two historical walks recommended on the tourist map provided by our hotel. The experience visiting historical landmarks of the Confederacy and walking the newly established Richmond Slave Trail was very interesting, and perhaps best told in the form of a photo essay.”
Photo of Jefferson Davis – We had no trouble finding Jefferson Davis’ memorial on Monument Avenue. As President of the Confederacy, he had a prime location on one of the city’s most beautiful streets.
We had significant trouble locating the Slave Auction Houses. Being the real life location of the auction houses from the movie 12 Years a Slave, we figured they would be easily found. Alas, we did not realize that the Slave Trail would have a decidedly post-modern take on history. It turns out the second largest slave market in the U.S. is now an empty parking lot, probably representing the emptiness of the souls of the slave merchants.
Like most of the heroes of the Confederacy, General Robert E. Lee received a starring role in the city’s infrastructure. Here, General Lee graces a beautiful traffic circle on Monument Avenue.
The slaves who died also received a starring role on a major thoroughfare. Here, a brown plaque commemorates the gallows where runaway slaves and rebellious slaves were hung. The stones forming the base of the gallows were apparently a convenient source of raw materials, because some of them were repurposed decades ago to build the walls of this anonymous highway overpass. We figured the anonymity of the overpass must be a social commentary on the anonymity of the countless lives ended here.
Confederate generals also got prime locations on the grassy expanses of the city. Here, General “Stonewall” Jackson proudly stands on the verdant Virginia State Capitol grounds located in the heart of Richmond.
The slaves also got memorialized in pastoral locales. Take this hard-to-find patch of grass wedged between some train tracks and the highway. This is the African Burial Ground where slaves were laid to rest. One can only assume the location near the freight tracks must be a reference to slaves being treated as a commodity to be shipped and sold.
The Daughters of the Confederacy have done a wonderful job contributing to the conservation of the White House of the Confederacy.
Check out this unlabeled slave hut, generously preserved on a rusting trailer in an abandoned parking lot. The lack of signage was surely designed to encourage the walk to be interactive in the age of new media. For example, a quick Google search revealed that this hut is actually Winfree Cottage, given to Emily Winfree by her former owner to raise the 5 children he fathered with her.
This is Monumental Church, built as a memorial to the 72 people who died attending a show at the Richmond Theater, including the Governor, in 1811. The plaque notes that a slave famously rescued many of the patrons from the fire here. It is now preserved by the Historic Richmond Foundation
This is the First African Baptist Church, and the last stop on the Slave Trail. This hallowed building was an important support for the freedmen of Richmond as well as for folks who were still enslaved, and was also the site of one of Booker T. Washington’s famous speeches supporting the education of African Americans. It is also located directly adjacent to Monumental Church. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is now generously preserved as office space for a medical school.
“All kidding aside, I would highly recommend visiting both aspects of this fascinating and historic city. It is a vivid reminder that for all of the years that have passed, the past is still very much alive in the present, no matter how much of it seems buried away. Special thanks goes to Will for inviting me to turn some Instagram musings into a guest blog post!”
All photos copyright @ Kenneth Hung 2015, and may not be copied or reproduced without permission