About

The Fight for Knowledge

Virginia has a long history of segregation in public schools. In 1954 Senator Harry Byrd, Sr. opposed the Brown v. Board of Education decision to integrate schools and called for Massive Resistance to the court’s ruling. Virginia’s refusal to desegregate public schools after the Supreme Court’s decision continues to have a great impact on Richmond’s public schools, especially since it is clear that educational inequity continues to persist along racial and socio-economic lines. Public schools in Richmond continue to be largely segregated—only 7% of white parents in Richmond enroll their children in public schools. However, apart from occasional newspaper articles in the local press, the connection between segregationist laws lasting through the middle of the twentieth century, and the segregation that continues to exist in schools today is largely underexplored in public discourse. [1]

Since 2011 we (Laura Browder and Patricia Herrera) have been teaching a community-based course, “Civil Rights and Education in Richmond, VA: A Documentary Theater Project,” as a way to use theater to teach our students about the rich and complex history of Richmond's educational system, fraught by the legacy of segregation, desegregation, and resegregation. In Spring 2011 the course and the play produced focused more broadly on the history of massive resistance and desegregation in Richmond. The following year, we decided to focus on one location—George Wythe High School, which went from being an elite white school to an integrated school to a nearly all-black school. Most recently, we decided to focus on one particular year—1968, a pivotal year in American history. In what ways was it a watershed year for Richmond?

In the class, our students take on different roles—as playwrights, ethnographers, actors, archivists, researchers, oral historians, documentary makers, community advocates, and facilitators. The wealth of material they gather through archival research and interviews, in preparation for collaboratively writing and performing their play, has led us to create a digital archive that will live on and provide material for future courses, as well as for community members and other researchers.

What we have only slowly realized, in working on this digital archive—The Fight for Knowledge: Civil Rights and Education in Richmond, Virginia—is that the process of building the archive could help us reconceptualize the relationship between archive and theater—and help us enrich our thinking about both archive creation and documentary theater practices.

About the Site

The Fight For Knowledge is a digital repository that aims to provide increased access and interaction with private and public collections documenting personal and communal narratives of Virginia’s civil rights history. This archive presents historical photographs, newspaper articles, census data, audio recordings, video, interviews, letters and files of other physical objects that visitors can explore and download. We understand that one of the growing challenges for privately owned archives and educational institution is being able to attract new audiences for their important archival collections in an age of digital media. As such, The Fight For Knowledge is built on the Omeka Open Source software and shares some of its content under the educational Creative Commons (CC) license. A resurgent spirit of collaboration between public and private institutions offers us new avenues of exploration and access to existing archival collections. This digital repository takes full advantage of the best in traditional preservation practices and offers a flexible platform where private and public institutions can reimagine best-practices models for collecting, curating and exhibiting communal cultural memory.

The wealth of materials in this collection could not have been possible without the deep commitment to public education from The Valentine Richmond History Center, Virginia Commonwealth University’s Special Collections, University of Richmond’s Boatwright Library and the Digital Scholarship Lab, The Special Collections at the L. Douglas Wilder Library at Virginia Union University, E. Bell, Richmond City Public Schools, members of several George Wythe High School’s Alumni groups and other community partners that have generously shared their technical expertise, donated their time and made their valuable archival materials available for this collaborative venture.

[1] “Urban Public Schools Push for More Students,” Associated Press, August 22, 2009; Michael Paul Williams, Richmond Times Dispatch, “Race in Richmond: Schools Aim for Social Diversity” (December 27, 2010) and “Schools Must Fix Funding Disparities” (May 31, 2011).

Featured Items

In Protest

An anti-busing group gathered at Manchester Community Center with a car in the foreground with a sign on it reading " Daddy is Cussing / Mama is Fussing / About - Busing" The adults are… ...more

Riot Police Arrest Suspect

A group of riot police arrest an African-American man during riots in Richmond, Virginia following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ...more

Performing the Archive

This photo documents the play about desegregation that was written and produced by University of Richmond Students. The students used archival/primary resources to inform the drama they… ...more

Rally at the State Capitol

A large rally being held in response to race riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Virginia State Capitol grounds in Richmond, Virginia. ...more

Celebration of the 25th Anniversary of Brown V. Board of Education in Richmond, Virginia

People gather outside in the mall across from City Hall in Richmond, Virginia to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. The Board of Education. ...more

Performing the Archive

This photo documents the play about desegregation that was written and produced by University of Richmond Students. The students used archival/primary resources to inform the drama they… ...more

Demolition of George Wythe High School

The George Wythe High School building located between 8th and 9th on Marshall Street, being reduced to a mass of rubble to make way for a parking lot, May 26, 1981. ...more

Anti-Busing Demonstrators March Along Franklin Street in Richmond, Virginia

Anti-busing demonstrators, mostly women and children, marching along Franklin Street near Virginia Commonwealth University on August 16, 1970. ...more

Riot Damage in Richmond, Virginia

Broken windows in a corner store in downtown Richmond, Virginia as a result of riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ...more

Parents Picket 'Learning Center' in Richmond, Virginia

White parents and children picketing at Grace Arents School in Richmond, Virginia to protest the conversion of the "neighborhood school" to a "learning center" under the new desegregation… ...more

Recent Items

Performing the Archive

This photo documents the play about desegregation that was written and produced by University of Richmond Students. The students used archival/primary resources to inform the drama they… ...more

Performing the Archive

A post-performnce discussion with Meghan Glass Hughes, Director of Collections & Interpretation at the Valentine Richmond History Center. ...more

Performing the Archive

Part of the post-performance discussion. ...more

Performing the Archive

Part of the post-performnce discussion with two George Whyte High School Alumnus. ...more

Performing the Archive

A post-performance discussion being facilitated by Wesley Chenault, Head of James Branch Cabell Library
Special Collections and Archives. ...more