Date Awarded

2021

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.)

Department

History

Advisor

Melvin Ely

Committee Member

Carol Sheriff

Committee Member

Adrienne Petty

Abstract

“Emancipation is an Act, Freedom is a State of Being”: Remembering Emancipation in Hampton Roads, 1917-1963. This paper traces the centralized organization and an activist turn in the commemoration of emancipation in the Hampton Roads region of Southeastern Virginia and Northeastern North Carolina. While considerable scholarship exists on African American freedom commemorations from the Civil War through its semi-centennial, the story told of twentieth-century emancipation memory is mostly one of marginalization and decline. Accounts of these celebrations in the local Black press reveals their persistence well into the twentieth century. Jim Crow and racial violence haunted the celebratory culture of emancipation and revealed its limitations. The elimination of parades and the proliferation of rhetoric calling for a “new” and “complete” emancipation during celebrations in the decades prior to the civil rights movement illustrates a clear activist turn in the political culture of emancipation memory. Organizers replaced parades with protests, civic groups like the NAACP sponsored and coordinated Emancipation Day events, and prominent civil rights leaders and organizations participated in commemorations and weaponized emancipation memory in their campaigns. Commemorating emancipation became interconnected with activism to address its limitations. The intersection of memory and activism with the emergence of the civil rights movement illustrates that Black memory mattered to those who sought a more complete freedom. “Rest Assured”: Space, Memory, and Resistance in John Mitchell, Jr.’s Woodland Cemetery. This paper looks at the origins and significance of Woodland Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia and the legacy of its founder, John Mitchell, Jr. Closer analysis of Mitchell’s motivations; the political and economic forces that shaped Woodland; and Mitchell’s positioning of the cemetery as a site of memory, racial pride, respectability, and resistance in an era of segregation and discrimination demonstrates that Woodland was more than one of his many real estate ventures. This research reveals that it is impossible to understand the history of Woodland Cemetery without John Mitchell, Jr. and equally impossible to understand the legacy of Michell without considering his project at Woodland. Putting these two histories in conversation with one another allows a more nuanced view of Mitchell’s late-life activism, his efforts towards racial progress, the socio-economic limitations of his vision of Black respectability, and the interconnected and communal nature of Black collective mourning in the memory space of Woodland cemetery. Woodland was a venture in Black independence and racial pride. The cemetery’s vitality was dependent on its status as a segregated space. Woodland, alongside many business, social organizations, and institutions, helped meet the needs of the Black community in a segregated world. Mitchell intended Woodland to serve as an alternative space for Black people to enjoy in life and rest with dignity in death.

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