NOTE: This is the first of several posts intended for last week, but, well, rural Southside Virginia ain't exactly a Public Wi-Fi kinda place. - Jason
RICHMOND, Va. (ZP) -- Two women turned the corner of 12th Street, began heading east down Clay Street, towards the Medical College of Virginia Hospital parking garage.
The pair stopped at the front steps of the White House of the Confederacy, dug into their respective purses for cell phones and cigarettes, chatting away a beautiful Downtown afternoon.
One woman was an African immigrant, her outfit placing her country of origin somewhere along the Atlantic coast between Senegal and Ghana. Her accent was thick and pronounced as she spoke, English clearly her second or third language.
The other, a light-skinned black woman, clearly a lifelong U.S. citizen with her thick Piedmont accent, had with her a little girl, a small child who looked exactly like Norman Rockwell's famous portrait of Ruby Bridges, the little girl who U.S. Marshals had to escort to her first day of integrated Kindergarten in 1960s New Orleans.
The two women briskly laughed and bantered and swapped stories. I could hear every high-pitched exclamation of joy and shock, every sigh of the workday grind.
I leaned against an anchor of the C.S.S. Virginia, the famous long-gone ironclad, an outdoor exhibit at the entrance to the Museum of the Confederacy, less than 30 feet away.
I lit another cigarette and listened as the pair's chatter welcomed the afternoon rush hour.
* * * *
My grandmother and sister were still perched on a park bench near the memorial garden, my father was still inside wandering the exhibits, and my cousin from Louisiana was snapping tourist-perfect pictures of just about everything in sight.
I looked back down Clay Street, back towards the heart of the onetime Capital City of the Confederate States of America.
The rest of the 21st century had already joined the women on the sidewalks and streets, and the rogue government's executive mansion melted into a sea of today's Richmonders.
A group of Mexican men, construction workers, strolled the workingman's stroll back towards the parking garage, lunch boxes swaying at the ends of tired brown arms. A group of Korean and Chinese medical students hurried towards North 10th Street, towards their momentary freedom from residencies and hospital rounds.
And no one seemed to pay any mind to the fact that they walked beneath the long shadow cast by a relic of the Lost Cause.
Only the tourists. And the pigeons.
* * * *
A white man in a suit strolled down the sidewalk, a black woman at his side. The woman put her hand in his back pocket as he gabbed away into his wireless Bluetooth headset. She grinned and tugged him towards a food vendor's cart just outside the Confederate White House, kissed him on the cheek beneath the windows of Jefferson Davis's former study.
And the man wrapped his arm around the woman's waist as he ended his call, returned her kiss, and bought a couple of hot dogs - just outside the room Abraham Lincoln is said to have used immediately after the city rejoined the United States in 1865.
It took more than a century after the Great Emancipator visited that building, a mere week before his assassination, for such a display of public affection to be decriminalized in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
And now, 40 years after the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court ruling, a black woman and white man can share an intimate moment on a bustling sidewalk, in plain view of immigrants and businessmen and doctors and tourists, people of every ethnicity.
What a strange sensation – to witness two people in love and to feel somehow patriotic, to feel as if the whole of Freedom can be sealed with a kiss.
* * * *
There are people who visit this town only to marvel at its statues of dead rebel soldiers, to visit its monuments to a lost war, to revel in only one part of the history of the American South. But it's surprising how easy it is to forget Richmond's naked now and future, the true legacy of the American Civil War.
The ghosts of the Confederacy don't speak with African or Asian or Mexican accents, don't embrace while buying hot dogs, or even lean against the old scuttled anchors of sunken warships. Johnny Reb died a long time ago, his bastard son Jim Crow put down like a rabid dog in the streets. They rule nothing but the memories on the nostalgic.
But the living sing Richmond and Virginia electric, every day in the naked now, somewhere along the stony banks of the James River.
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