Tenth Season of Controversy/History Returns to Address 2020’s Impact

September 23, 2020

Eric Steigleder
Director of Communications

Tenth Season of Controversy/History Returns to Address 2020’s Impact

RICHMOND – The Valentine’s popular conversation series will return virtually on Tuesday, October 6, co-hosted by Valentine Director Bill Martin and Coffee with Strangers host Kelli Lemon. The free, five-event series will focus on the evolving impacts of 2020, a year full of unexpected challenges and uncomfortable conversations, all amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic and massive social change.

“The Richmond community that entered 2020 is not the same community we find ourselves a part of today,” Valentine Director Martin said. “2020 has truly been a year of historic change, and it only makes sense to use our conversation series Controversy/History to examine those changes, how they have impacted the people of the Richmond Region and what we can do as a community to move forward together.”

Each virtual event will include an exciting lineup of guest speakers discussing contemporary issues and how 2020 has either upended or reinforced Richmond’s history, followed by questions from the audience and action steps for those inspired to get involved.

Here is a complete list of dates and topics:

October 6, 2020, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2020 and Voting

November 3, 2020, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2020 and Mental Health

December 1, 2020, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2020 and Business

January 5, 2021, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2021 and Education

February 2, 2021, 5:30-6:30 p.m.
2021 and Activism


About the Valentine
The Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s 400-year history for over a century. Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Valentine is a place for residents and tourists to discover the diverse stories that tell the broader history of this important region. https://thevalentine.org/

Richmond Story: Edgar Allan Poe

As we pass the six-month mark of social distancing, economic disaster and an uncertain future, it seems fitting to use this week’s Richmond story to openly acknowledge these difficulties. Though months of bread baking, home improvements, online happy hours, exercise regimens and other optimistic efforts have sustained many of us, perhaps it is healthy from time to time to indulge in a bit of wallowing. In that, there is no better guide than one of our most famous Richmonders: Edgar Allan Poe. Poe was no stranger to loneliness, financial trouble and depression.  He even invented a new literary genre that aimed to inspire dread in its simplest, shortest and purest form.

X.50.01.301, Edgar Allan Poe, 1840s, The Valentine

Poe was born in 1809 to parents who were both travelling actors. When he was just two years old, his mother died of tuberculosis in Richmond, while acting in a local company. Poe’s father, from whom his mother was estranged, died soon after. Poe’s mother was buried at St. John’s Church in Richmond, and a local childless couple, John and Frances Allan, adopted the orphaned toddler. A tobacco merchant, Allan hoped that his adopted son would eventually take over his business. But Poe, from an early age, was determined to be a poet. Allan paid for Poe’s first year at the University of Virginia, but the young poet accumulated gambling debts and seemed aimless. His adoptive father cut him off financially, the first of many times over the course of Poe’s life. Shortly after this blow, Poe’s fiancée, Sarah Elmira Royster of Church Hill, gave into parental pressure and abandoned him to marry a wealthy man.

Poe left Richmond in 1826 heartbroken, though he continued to write. After publishing his first book, he remained unable to support himself and so tried brief stints in the Army, then West Point, from which he was expelled. All the while, John Allan sometimes helped his ward financially, only cutting him off again for misbehavior.

April 12, 1833 letter from E.A. Poe to John Allan, Poe-Allan-Ellis Papers, The Valentine

In 1831 while living in Baltimore, Poe began to attract notice as a writer. But he was still struggling financially and periodically wrote home to Allan for money. These letters, some archived here at the Valentine, went without reply. In 1835, he was offered the job of assistant editor at the Southern Literary Messenger, a new literary magazine based in Richmond. He took it, and so returned to this city. Despite a clear drinking problem that fueled professional clashes, his brilliance stood out. Poe was soon promoted to editor. Under his leadership, the Messenger became successful. He used the journal not only to publish his poems and short stories, but also wrote humorous and often brutal literary criticism. Few authors were spared. Poe left the Messenger and Richmond in 1837, for literary pursuits northward.

In 1839, Poe published The Fall of the House of Usher. In 1845, The Raven was unleashed. As his writing darkened, however, his personal life darkened as well. His relentless criticism of other writers, the death of his wife, his defiant personality and the financial bankruptcy of his own journal in New York left him alienated, unable to publish, destitute, depressed and grieving. He accumulated debts. In 1849, he returned to Richmond to give a reading and lecture on The Raven.  The homecoming provided him the opportunity to change his life when he reunited with the recently widowed and now-wealthy fiancée who had jilted him 23 years before. He seized it. Poe decided to marry his beloved Elmira at last and return to life here. But the move never happened. Just weeks after deciding to turn this new, optimistic page, amidst his arrangements to move back to Richmond, Poe was found unconscious outside of a tavern in Baltimore. He died in a hospital four days later. The previous few months had taken their toll on Poe, so much so that scholars have multiple theories as to how he met his end.

He was only 40 years old, but Poe transformed the alienation and despair that defined his life into a literary legacy that still inspires dread (in a good way) today.

Richmond Story: The Knights of Labor

In 1882 and 1883, a nationwide economic slump led to layoffs across the country. Many of these layoffs became permanent, even as the economy recovered due to industries replacing more and more workers with machinery. Against this mass industrialization, traditional small craft unions found few victories. In Richmond, like in most American cities, small craft unions were nothing new. Organized by trade, however, they were limited in size and thus limited in power. There were only so many quarry workers or so many foundry workers in a single city. Many felt powerless against the mass scale of industrialization.

V.92.68.03, Proposition for Membership in the Order of the Knights of Labor, c. 1885, The Valentine

A new labor model was needed to address the changing economic landscape. That model could be found in the Noble and Holy Order of the Knights of Labor. Founded in 1869, it slowly evolved and expanded its mission and leadership so that by 1879, it was poised to harness the rising frustrations of the working class. This union revolutionized the labor movement by inducting members regardless of trade. Anyone could join: iron workers, typographers, cigar makers, granite cutters, mill workers, barbers, builders, textile workers. With sheer numbers, the Knights could match the power of what they called “the great capitalists.”

In April of 1884, the Knights of Labor spread to Richmond. Eleven white workers established “The Eureka Assembly.” At first, they struggled to gain more members. Corporate interests were strong and leaders exploited racial tensions within the working class to maintain power. But by the fall of 1884, Black workers had formed a few of their own assemblies. They could not be official Knights, however, without a charter, which they needed from the local white organizer. By that time, eight white assemblies had been established in the city. Fierce debate between them ensued. Some members were in favor of integrating the union, while some opposed the idea. The organizer, Charles Miller, wrote to the national office outlining the dilemma. Terence Powderly, the General Master Workman of the Knights, and possibly the most famous labor activist in the country at the time, did not reply to the letter. Instead, he came to Richmond.

He arrived in late January of 1885 and stayed for two days. In those two days, he held two meetings. In the first, open only to white members, he discussed the inclusive structure needed to not just address larger local issues, but to apply political pressure and to secure victories for workers. Powderly told the group:

“We organize the colored workers into separate assemblies, working under the same laws and enjoying the same privileges as their white brethren… The politicians have kept the white and black men of the South apart, while crushing both. Our aim shall be to educate both and elevate them by bringing them together.”

V.93.108.02, Tenth Annual Convention of the Knights of Labor, Held at the First Regiment Armory, Richmond. General Master Worksman Powderly Addressing the Convention, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. October 16, 1886, The Valentine

The next evening, he presided over a much larger meeting at the Old First Market Hall, at 17th and Main Streets. This meeting was open to everyone: Black and white, men and women, members and non-members. It was packed. There, he announced this separate but equal structure, quite radical for the time in Richmond. Never before here had Black and white workers belonged to the same union. The enthusiasm of the crowd was so great, Powderly later recalled that “I organized an assembly of colored men at the conclusion of the meeting.” After Powderly’s visit, membership to the Knights of Labor exploded in Richmond. Even the women were inspired to organize for the first time in this city’s history, forming an assembly of white women cigarette makers.

By retaining maximum flexibility for both membership and regional prejudices, the Knights of Labor drew in the numbers needed to fight rising corporate power. Of course, because of this flexibility, many things did not change for Black workers in their segregated assemblies and more serious divisions persisted. But Black and white workers did, for the first time in Richmond, exert political pressure as one. As membership boomed, the Knights held boycotts against offending businesses. One of their first actions as an “integrated” union was to take up the cause of Richmond’s coopers—a trade unique at the time for not being dominated by one race. Forced to compete with free convict labor, Black and white coopers struggled to make a living. In the summer of 1885, the Knights declared a boycott on the Haxall-Crenshaw flour mill in defense of the coopers, which bought convict-made barrels. Right away, they took on one of the biggest and oldest businesses in Richmond. By the end of the year, the Knights won. With that, thousands of white Richmonders were compelled to, and did, join a boycott that benefited poor Black workers—a feat nearly unimaginable in 1880s Richmond.

The Valentine Opens Richmond History Makers Nominations During a Year of Historic Transformation

September 8, 2020

Contact: Eric Steigleder
Director of Communications

The Valentine Opens Richmond History Makers Nominations During a Year of Historic Transformation

The sixteenth annual program will punctuate months of tremendous change across the Richmond Region

RICHMOND — In the midst of an historic moment in our community, the Valentine will open nominations for the 2021 Richmond History Makers & Community Update today. The program honors individuals and organizations making substantive and lasting contributions to the Greater Richmond region.

“We have seen so many Richmonders directly confront the challenges that have come to exemplify the past several months,” said Valentine Director Bill Martin. “During such an unprecedented time, there are even more individuals and organizations making history, and we look forward to receiving nominations that support their bold work.”

The Valentine will again partner with the Community Foundation for a Greater Richmond to highlight the work of six honorees and provide an update on those making a positive impact across the region. The six honorees will be recognized at a community celebration March 9, 2021. Long-time Richmond History Makers sponsor Dominion Energy is returning as the title sponsor.

“We are excited to once again partner with the Valentine for this important program,”  said Scott Blackwell, Chief Community Engagement Officer with the Community Foundation. “At a time when we see so many doing so much, we look forward to shining a spotlight on those whose actions today will impact the community for years to come.”

“Leadership Metro Richmond is a longtime partner in this important endeavor, and we look forward to partnering for the sixteenth year,” said LMR President & CEO Myra Goodman Smith. “‘Making history’ has taken on a whole new meaning during this transformative moment in our community, and we look forward to engaging with those individuals and organizations helping to shape our future in new and exciting ways.”

Nominations for the 2021 Richmond History Makers & Community Update will be accepted September 8 through October 28. You can learn more about the program, view past honorees and nominate your own Richmond history maker at RichmondHistoryMakers.com.

Additional information, including the status of the celebration on March 9, will be determined after the new year. The Valentine is committed to ensuring a safe and engaging event for our honorees, guests and the public.


About the Valentine
The Valentine has been collecting, preserving and interpreting Richmond’s 400-year history for over a century. Located in the heart of historic downtown, the Valentine is a place for residents and tourists to discover the diverse stories that tell the broader history of this important region. https://thevalentine.org/

About the Community Foundation
The Community Foundation is a leading partner and advocate for philanthropy and service in the Richmond region. Founded in 1968, the Community Foundation has built a strong legacy of helping people and institutions give back with passion and purpose. https://www.cfrichmond.org/

About Leadership Metro Richmond
Leadership Metro Richmond (LMR) is the region’s community leadership development and engagement organization. Over 2,000 diverse leaders have participated in LMR’s 10-month leadership development program, Leadership Quest. LMR provides leaders with an environment for high-performing conversations, broadens their knowledge and perspectives about the region, and inspires them to serve first then lead. http://www.lmronline.org/