About 55 University of Richmond students, faculty and staff took a tour through the civil rights history of Richmond Jan. 20 as part of the university’s “Day On.” Richmond held its first full observation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year: All classes were canceled and the university scheduled a number of service and learning activities to commemorate the life of America’s most famous civil rights leader.
John Moeser, a senior fellow in the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement, led the bus tour Monday afternoon, sharing both facts from his research on Richmond’s racial politics and personal stories from more than four decades of living in Richmond. Edward Peeples, Moeser’s former colleague at VCU who grew up steeped in the racism of white Richmonders before joining some of the earliest civil rights protests in the city, joined him.
The tour ranged from the houses of major Richmond civil rights figures such as Judge Robert Mehrige, who issued the hated judgment to integrate Richmond’s schools, and James Kilpatrick, the racist editor of the Richmond News Leader to the Arthur Ashe statue on Monument Avenue and the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial on the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol. There, participants heard from Viola Baskerville, a former city councilwoman and state delegate, about the stories behind the monument and its symbolism.
Many of the students on the tour were from other countries, such as junior Stephanie White. White, a New Zealander, said she had joined the tour because she didn’t know much about American civil rights. “I wanted to get involved,” she said.
On the other hand, Lucretia McCulley, head of scholarly communications at Boatwright Memorial Library, said she had lived in Richmond for 28 years but wanted to learn more. “I’m always trying to add to my history of the area, and I thought it was a great way to honor Martin Luther King,” she said.
Moeser said he hoped participants had learned that Richmond, like more famous cities such as Montgomery, Ala., had been “a major venue for the civil rights movement.”
The university also partnered with HandsOn Greater Richmond to give students, faculty and staff the chance to perform community service at various sites in Richmond, including Henderson and Boushall middle schools, the William Byrd Community House and the Salvation Army’s Boys and Girls Club. A commemoration ceremony planned for Jan. 21 was canceled because of inclement weather.
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