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Historically Black

Historically Black: Imagining Community in a Black Historic District

Mieka Brand Polanco
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Historically Black
    Book Description:

    In Historically Black, Mieka Brand Polanco examines the concept of community in the United States: how communities are experienced and understood, the complex relationship between human beings and their social and physical landscapesand how the term community is sometimes conjured to feign a cohesiveness that may not actually exist. Drawing on ethnographic and historical materials from Union, Virginia,Historically Blackoffers a nuanced and sensitive portrait of a federally recognized Historic District under the category Ethnic HeritageBlack.Since Union has been home to a racially mixed population since at least the late 19th century, calling it historically black poses some curious existential questions to the black residents who currently live there. Unions identity as a historically black community encourages a perception of the town as a monochromatic and monohistoric landscape, effectively erasing both old-timer white residents and newcomer black residents while allowing newer white residents to take on a proud role as preservers of historyGestures to community gloss an oversimplified perspective of race, history and space that conceals much of the richness (and contention) of lived reality in Union, as well as in the larger United States. They allow Americans to avoid important conversations about the complex and unfolding nature by which groups of people and social/physical landscapes are conceptualized as a single unified whole. This multi-layered, multi-textured ethnography explores a key concept, inviting public conversation about the dynamic ways in which race, space, and history inform our experiences and understanding of community.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-2474-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-44)

    The town of Union¹ lies at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains in central Virginia. Before beginning my research there, I was given careful instructions to drive slowly as I approached the community. “It’s so small and unassuming,” I was told, “if you blink you’ll miss it.” The brick and wood-frame homes that make up Union are far enough apart that passersby see more trees and greenery than brick or mortar, but the houses that are visible from the road are a mixture of old and new. Dilapidated, century-old frame houses slowly decay into overgrowth beside carefully restored homes...

  5. 2 Gating Union: The Politics of “Protecting” Community
    (pp. 45-72)

    There are no physical markers that delineate Union’s boundaries. Brick walls do not fortify it against its surrounding neighbors, nor do iron gates control the movement of traffic at the edge of the two roads leading into it. There are no physical boundaries around Union, and yet one could argue that the social and legal codes that formed as a result of NRHP identifying this place as a Historic District are in some ways just as real as iron fences or brick walls. In this chapter I focus on the relationship that Union’s history brokers have with Union, and their...

  6. 3 Thick Histories: Producing Community through Historical Narratives
    (pp. 73-114)

    In 1935, in one of the first ethnographies written about an African American community, anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston reflected on the social role that lies play among the people at the center of her study. Hurston describes two types of lies that were told by her interlocutors, black residents of Eatonville, Florida. One type includes folktales that are recounted among community members—mythical stories designed to transmit cultural knowledge and mores. The other includes tales that are told to nosy intruders—a sort of smoke screen intended to protect marginalized black people from the prying gaze of the white world...

  7. 4 “Not to Scale”: Cartographic Productions of Community
    (pp. 115-146)

    In late autumn 2001, I unexpectedly received in the mail a hand-drawn map of Union. The map, a photocopy of the original, was reproduced onto two large sheets of paper that were carefully taped together. The cartographer was Ernest Greene. The sender was his cousin Peter Greene. Both were raised in Union, but had moved away as young men. “Here is a map that may be of interest to you,” Peter introduced the piece in an attached note. “It was prepared by my cousin, Ernest C. Greene, who is 88 years old, is well, rather alert, and loves to talk...

  8. Conclusion: Unfolding Communities: Union Road as a “Uniter of People”?
    (pp. 147-166)

    Taken individually, the chapters of this book have offered insights into particular aspects of the relationships that residents have to community and by extension to history, space, and race—illuminations that each group casts on the overlap of these concepts in Union. While some consideration was given in each chapter to the placement of history brokers, descendant residents, and delegitimized historians within larger social dynamics, the central aim has been to allow the qualities and internal logic of each group to be understood and analyzed on its own terms.

    Taken together, the chapters form my own rendition of Union, growing...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 167-172)
    (pp. 173-176)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 177-183)
    (pp. 184-184)