Published December 6, 2021

Virginia legislators and state government and cultural agency leaders held a Special Meeting on Cultural Justice in Virginia on Monday, December 6, 2021, from 6:00-8:00pm ET. Officials heard from descendants of several Virginia Black heritage sites, student researchers, and national experts on Black cultural/natural heritage Jobie Hill of Saving Slave Houses, Dr. J.T. Roane from The Black Ecologies Initiative at Arizona State University, and Dr. Andrea Roberts of The Texas Freedom Colonies Project. This virtual special meeting was hosted by the Virginia African American Cultural Resources (VAACR) Task Force and open to the public.

The December 6 meeting occured amid growing national interest in how Virginia’s diverse cultural and environmental heritage is utilized to support learning and sustainable economic development.

Lawmakers and cultural agency leaders heard insights from participants of the summer 2021 Virginia Black Public History Institute that was co-hosted by the VAACR Task Force, Saving Slave Houses, and Virginia Humanities, and funded in part by a grant from the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund of the National Trust for Historic Preservation with support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Three invited national experts also discussed their work around Black cultural rights, cultural landscapes, and environmental and cultural sustainability. 

Preservation architect Jobie Hill served as the summer 2021 director of the Virginia Black Public History Institute, which supported descendant-led preservation of Black ancestral sites of slavery and resistance. Since 2011 Hill’s work has focused exclusively on the architecture of slavery, the impact domestic slavery buildings had on the lives of their inhabitants, and the preservation of the history of enslaved people. In 2012 she founded Saving Slave Houses to document and help preserve the nation’s remaining slave houses. Hill and Saving Slave Houses have partnered with the National Museum of African American History & Culture, Colonial Williamsburg, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, C-SPAN, Google, Virginia Humanities, Montpelier, and Monticello.

Tappahannock, Virginia native and University of Virginia Carter G. Woodson Institute alumnus Dr. J.T. Roane is an African and African American Studies scholar, professor, and a former National Endowment for the Humanities/Mellon Foundation Research Fellow at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. At Arizona State University’s Institute for Humanities Research, Roane leads the Black Ecologies Initiative, which supports the work of cultural workers, organizers and scholars engaged in understanding both the deep ecological knowledge and present-day vulnerabilities of Black communities in the U.S. and around the African Diaspora. 

Dr. Andrea Roberts is a professor of Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning at Texas A&M University and a member of the Mellon Foundation’s National Monument Audit Advisory Board and the Texas State Board of Review. In 2014 she founded The Texas Freedom Colonies Project (TXFCP), an educational, social justice initiative, dedicated to the preservation of Black settlements’ landscapes, heritage, and grassroots practice through participatory research. In Virginia, endangered “freedom colonies” — historic Black settlements like Brown Grove in Hanover County, Pine Grove in Cumberland County, and Union Hill in Buckingham County, founded between 1865-1930 — continue to garner national attention. Roberts has worked with student researchers, community-based collaborators, and the freedom colony diaspora to create The TXFCP Atlas, the first statewide mapping effort to make ecological and development impacts on historic Black communities visible to the public, practitioners, and policymakers, and integrate freedom colonies and descendants into contemporary planning processes. Roberts has also consulted on the University of Virginia’s Charlottesville Cultural Landscape Atlas.

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About the Virginia African American Cultural Resources Task Force

The Virginia African American Cultural Resources (VAACR) Task Force was unanimously established by the General Assembly in 2017 as a Virginia Humanities advisory coalition composed of legislative and nonlegislative citizens, state agencies, and statewide organizations, including the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, Preservation Virginia, Virginia Africana Associates, Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Virginia Humanities, Virginia Outdoors Foundation, Virginia Tourism Corporation, and representatives from Virginia’s historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). The VAACR Task Force champions inclusive learning, community development, and economic opportunities that help sustain Black cultural heritage sites and places.

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