What's in a name?: Memorialization and Cooptation in Richmond

Authors: Kathryn Howell*, Virginia Commonwealth University
Topics: Urban Geography, Urban and Regional Planning
Keywords: Race, Space, Cities
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Washington 3, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

In 2016, the City of Richmond unveiled a statue of Maggie L Walker, the first woman to charter a bank and Richmond’s most posthumously prominent African American citizen. To many, the statue marked a visible turning point in Richmond’s efforts to address decades of oppression even as fights continue over Lost Cause-inspired Monument Avenue to the west. However, this is just one – if the only physical one – of the many ways Maggie Walker has been memorialized. Since 2001 when the Governor’s magnet school opened with her name on it, Maggie Walker has been used on nearly any initiative that has an impact on the poor – from the Community Land Trust to the Office of Community Wealth Building. It has recently moved beyond poverty initiatives. Yet her community, like all racialized landscapes in Richmond, remains torn apart by the legacy of Urban Renewal and highway projects, Redlining and disinvestment.

This paper investigates how the commemoration of Maggie L Walker in the city of Richmond has served to legitimize policy interventions and reinforce the contingent and individual nature of black citizenship for whites. Maggie Walker represents what Hartman (1997) refers to as “burdened individuality.” The burden of proof for recognition as a human is dependent upon being deemed worthy. Her representation, more importantly, represents a form of cooptation through inclusion (Miraftab 2004). I argue that the use of Maggie Walker’s name reinforces existing power structures through the legitimization of the programs and policies run through white organizations.

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