Can Richmond heal its past to become a thriving city? An interview with Julian Hayter
I met up recently with Julian Hayter, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies at the Jepson School of the University of Richmond. A historian, Hayter focuses on municipal politics in the post-1945 South and specifically Richmond, Virginia. His research does more than interrogate Richmond’s past, he explained: “Ive asked historical questions that beg contemporaries to think about Richmond presently.”
Outside of thinking about things within the ideological framework Thriving Cities champions, Ive simply relied on many of the research techniques I use as an historian. Im currently writing a book that ends in 1985many of the sources Ive used to uncover Richmonds past arent that dissimilar from the data Im using to understand Richmond now.
Q: Do you think Richmond is a thriving city?
Frankly, portions of Richmond thrive. Other portions of Richmond, which were purposefully underdeveloped during the Jim Crow era, still struggle. Unfortunately, Richmond has struggled to overcome segregationists lack of long-term political vision.
Q: If we think of cities as having inheritances, what do you think is Richmonds primary treasure that lends to its ability to thrive?
Richmonds history, which has been its Achilles’ heel, might be used to turn a corner. This area occupies a special place in American historyRichmond and Virginia were central to the creation of the American democratic experiment, trans-Atlantic slaving, the establishment of the Confederacy, and much more. Richmond has inherited a special place in American heritage. Yet, this is a hotly debated space. Historys been used in this area to divide. I see no reason why Richmonds history cant be a unifying force.
Q: What is the biggest challenge or barrier to Richmonds thriving as a city?
Even more frankly, Richmonds biggest challenge is povertyits rampant and generational. Richmonds poverty, unfortunately, is also closely linked to Jim Crowism. Yet, local policymakers are finally addressing this issue. (See the Mayor’s Anti-Poverty Commission Report.)
Q: What is one thing that has surprised you about Richmond in your work so far?
Ive been studying Richmonds relatively recent history for nearly a decade. My colleagues are local policymakers, social workers, organizers, and active citizens. Very little surprises me about this area.
To hear more from Julian, check out the opinion piece he wrote for Richmond’s Style Weekly (The Rest of the Dream) about the legacy of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.