Do you remember?: A look back at some of the year’s most memorable C-VILLE stories

The original memorial plaque in Court Square, pictured above, was removed in February. The original memorial plaque in Court Square, pictured above, was removed in February.

It’s been a long year; a year many of us might rather forget. But reflection is important too, and plenty of important and weird stories stuck in our heads this year.  So, do you remember…

…the historic Black church?

In May, we took a deep dive into the history of the church at the corner of 10th Street and Grady Avenue. The Trinity Episcopal congregation constructed the church in 1939, when the city seized and destroyed the Black congregation’s first church building to make room for the all-white Lane High School. In the 1950s, when city schools were closed during massive resistance, the congregation held classes for Black students in the church.

When we wrote about the building in May, it was in terrible shape—the paint was peeling, the roof was leaking, the foundations were sinking into the earth. Now, it looks brand new. The developers in charge of Dairy Central, which has just opened across the street, also own the church, and over the last six months they’ve given the building a comprehensive face-lift.

The building’s future remains unclear, though. “We have no concrete plans for the space at this time,” says Jodi Mills, the developers’ marketing director. “We will be renting it out and are speaking with various community groups about hosting community connection opportunities in 2021.”

“We got a lot of history in there: The 10th and Grady church tells the story of a city,” May 20.

…the stolen memorial?

It’s always a good day at the alt-weekly when you get an email with the heading “Why I did it…” And that’s what happened on February 7, when local activist Richard Allan wrote to us to confess that he had surreptitiously removed the plaque marking the site where enslaved people were bought and sold in Court Square. Allan, who is white, says he’d spoken with Black community members who felt the plaque was an insufficient memorial for the important location, so he snuck out under cover of darkness removed the plaque and threw it in the James River.

Allan’s act of civil disobedience made national headlines, as the story offered a new wrinkle in the nation’s ongoing debate about how to memorialize public spaces. Allan himself wound up spending about 30 hours in jail for what police considered an act of vandalism. When asked if he would do it again, Allan says, “Without question, yes indeed I would.”

After the plaque originally disappeared, the city’s historic resources committee began the process for installing a new and better monument. The committee was working to solicit feedback from descendants of those bought and sold in Court Square when coronavirus hit, slowing the project. But the memorial is back on the docket now, with Allan and other activists continuing to push the conversation forward.

“Why I did it: County resident confesses to taking slave auction block,” February 7.

…the push to abolish the death penalty in Virginia?

In one of our first cover stories of the year, we spoke with some of the activists—including family members of murder victims—who’ve been pushing for years for Virginia to join the 22 states (plus Washington, D.C.) that have outlawed capital punishment.

Nationally and in Virginia, the death penalty is a racial justice issue. Black people are more likely to be sentenced to death than white people, especially if they are poor, or if the victim is white. Though Black people make up just 13.4 percent of the national population, about 41 percent of those on death row are Black. And since 1973, more than half of the 167 people on death row who’ve been exonerated have been Black.

Change could be on the horizon, though. The Democrat-controlled General Assembly is expected to consider death penalty repeal in 2021, and all four 2021 Democratic candidates for govenor support abolishing the practice—even former governor Terry McAuliffe, who oversaw three executions during his first term.

“Fighting for life (without parole): Death penalty abolitionists see change on the horizon,” February 12.

…UVA’s furloughed hospital workers?

It comes as no surprise that our coverage on the massive furloughs at UVA Health—one of Charlottesville’s largest employers—was among our most popular stories of the year. To offset its millions of dollars in pandemic-related financial losses, the health system placed more than 500 employees on full-time, unpaid furlough on May 8, including those who directly cared for patients.

The decision immediately sparked public outrage, with some employees claiming the furloughs were entirely avoidable, and compromised patient safety. “To be cutting staff providing critically needed care in a time like this when [Executive Vice President for Health Affairs] Craig Kent is still making $570,000 a year—[after] his much-touted 40 percent salary reduction—is shameful,” said one nurse practitioner.

Though many feared the furloughs would be extended, they finally came to an end on July 25 for the UVA Medical Center, and on August 16 for the School of Medicine. However, the hospital remains in a staffing crisis, and desperately awaits new hires. If there is a dramatic spike in COVID cases this winter, things may get much worse, according to several concerned employees.

“Cut off: UVA Health furloughs hundreds of employees,” May 13.

…the guy who makes pizza jingles?

We’ve all dealt with the lockdown stress in different ways, but many of us turned to food—baking, posting, and eating—for comfort. Musician and Bridge Progressive Arts Executive Director Alan Goffinski focused on the world’s most popular pie, and in what he calls a “love letter,” released 12 jingles about local pizza joints via Bandcamp in June.

“For me, the Pizzas of Charlottesville record was a damn near meditative act of appreciation for pizza and local business,” says Goffinski. “The resulting gratitude has definitely increased my pizza consumption habits.

“It’s a unique torture when the obnoxious commercial jingles that are stuck in your head are ones you’ve written yourself,” he says. “The songs haunt me in my sleep…and I wouldn’t change a thing.”  Go to pizzasof charlottesville.bandcamp.com to sing along.

“Pizza my heart: Alan Goffinski sings his love of C’ville slices,” June 4.

…the summer’s protest art?

In July we covered Damani Harrison’s ambitious three-part creative project “One for George,” a hip-hop song, music video, and portrait series in reaction to the massive social justice movement around the world.

“‘One for George’ was never about me,” says Harrison. “That is why I refused to do media after releasing the project. Our community is full of people feeling pain and stress from the weight of generational trauma and contemporary injustices.

“‘One for George’ was a way for us to come together and be a support for one another. It inspired artists to create as a means of catharsis. It was a way we could communicate our struggles, hopes, and fears. ‘OFG’ brought people together and was a conduit for the flow of positive, healing energy. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

“One for George” can be accessed @oneforgeorge on Instagram.

“Done Talking: Damani Harrison drops ‘One for George,’ a three-part collaboration with local artists,” July 1.

…the missing paintings?

When painter Megan Read shipped her work for the September opening of a solo exhibition at Denver’s Abend Gallery, she put a part of herself into the FedEx shipping boxes. Well, a part of herself, and $12,000 worth of paintings—and it all went missing.

Devastated by the misplacement of her artwork, and getting nowhere with the customer service lines, Read took to social and traditional media to pressure FedEx to take action.

“The paintings were missing for about three or four weeks, and eventually were found in the Kernersville, [North Carolina] hub—the so-called ‘hostage hub,’ or ‘black hole’—as I suspected they would be,” says Read.  “The reality is that I honestly don’t know how my intrepid friends managed to get this the attention it needed. But the contact there essentially admitted [the paintings] never would have made it out without the serious escalation.”

All of the art was recovered and the show, which opened on September 26, can be viewed at abendgallery.com.

In brief: The lost art, September 23.

…that great Thai food place?

On March 23, Governor Ralph Northam ordered restaurants to close for indoor service. For many establishments, that meant facing the unknown. Restaurateur Jay Pun, who co-owns both Chimm and Thai Cuisine & Noodle House, was worried, but he used his experience and compassion to adjust and stay afloat. He and his team upped their pickup and takeout capabilities, contributed to the feeding of frontline workers, and started offering classes and meal kits.

“I think the most rewarding thing is continuing to learn how to pivot in these strange times, while keeping our customers happy,” says Pun. “My dad and business partner said to me once, ‘perfection is the opposite of happiness,’ so I think we have just been trying things to see what works and what doesn’t. He doesn’t mind problems as he likes figuring out how to solve them, and I’m gradually adopting that idea too. …I thank my lucky stars we had takeout in place since we started and that most everyone has been kind and understanding even when we mess up.” Keep up with Pun’s specials and classes at facebook.com/chimmtaste.

The Power Issue: The Innovator, June 24.

…the Bonnet Maker?

CM Gorey reviewed the enigmatic work of The Bonnet Maker as part of Second Street Gallery’s “Teeny Tiny Trifecta 3” show in September. “It’s hard to pin down the project by the specifications that classify most fine art, but it connects performance, brief narrative writing, and photography,” wrote Gorey. The collaboration between Rochelle Sumner and Will Kerner follows a devout character based on the story of Sumner’s great grandmother. Now the project has extended itself to include an upcoming film.

“I’m continually surprised at what I have in common with the Old German Baptist Brethren even though I didn’t grow up in the old order religion and culture,” says Sumner. “What I realized as a highly sensitive person and as an artist during this year of quarantine and isolation is that like the old order I too sometimes feel ‘of this world, but not in the world.’…The Bonnet Maker, Rachel Puffenbarger, longs to be in the world but is apprehensive. …This year like The Bonnet Maker, l’ve been letting go of my old ways.”

“Old order, new visions: Rochelle Sumner and Will Kerner bring isolation out in the open,” September 16. 

 

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