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JJ Weekend: Black History Presentation

Sen. Marsh, Del. Cunningham, Chair Moran, Del. Reid, Mrs. Morris-Harris

A new addition to JJ weekend was a presentation by the Democratic Black Caucus on Richmond’s important black historical landmarks sites, chaired by DBC President Evelyn Morris-Harris.  State Senator Henry Marsh and former Delegate Ferguson Reid shared their recollections and Party Chair Brian Moran presented former Delegate Jean Cunningham with a resolution thanking her for her work as Chair of the State Electoral Board.  Sites include the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site, the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial on the State Capitol Grounds, and the Virginia Slavery Reconciliation Statue.  Fortunately, and after many meetings, it was a beautiful day to go out and at least see the monuments.  The Civil Rights memorial recalls the efforts of 16-year old Barbara Johns leading a protest of inferior educational facilities at the segregated Moten High School in Farmville in 1951; the resulting lawsuit was consolidated with Brown v. Board and led to the end of segregation.  E.J. Scott discussed the Reconciliation statue, which with its companions in Liverpool, England and Benin, represents remembrance, reconciliation, and healing.  Read on for Senator Marsh and Delegate Reid’s comments.

Senator Henry Marsh recounted several elections that were civil rights milestones.  In 1948, Oliver Hill became the first African-American elected to the city counsel since reconstruction.  Although he was widely respected and viewed as the most effective member of the council, he was defeated for reelection in 1950.  As a result, he was able to put more of his energies into the Prince Edward County desegregation lawsuit.   (Hill is depicted on the Civil Rights Memorial.)

Senator Marsh was first elected to the Richmond City Council in 1966 (and became Richmond’s first African-American Mayor in 1977).  He recounted that the nine-member counsel had two black members who were supported by the business community, and the establishment was reluctant to ask for more.  He was elected with the support of black ministers and brought new leadership that was responsive to the community. 

In 1967, Dr. William Ferguson Reid became the first African-American elected to the General Assembly in the 20th Century.  He was one of the founders of the Crusade for Voters and served three terms.

Sen. Marsh’s law partner, Sen. L. Douglas Wilder, was elected governor in 1989 – Marsh viewed this as a tremendous feat and thought he would not live to see the election of an African-American governor in Virginia, nor  the election of an African-American as president.  He observed that the civil rights establishment initially was skeptical of President Obama, but Sen. Marsh knew that he could reach people and get elected.   Sen. Marsh views the civil rights struggle as the foundation for the Democratic Party. 

Dr. Ferguson Reid (b. 1925) recounted his childhood  growing up next door to Maggie Walker in Jackson Ward.  He discussed the battle against segregation and the current challenges for the Democratic Party.  He stressed the need to run candidates for every office and not let the Republicans win by default.   He encouraged people to run for the General Assembly and local offices, and offered to help those interested in running.  If I were a candidate, I would give him a call.