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Located in the heart of Old Dominion, Virginia’s capital city has been central to American, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s, and the South’s heritage and identity since the eighteenth century. Ambivalent political and social traditions characterize (and continue to define) much of Richmond’s history. On one hand, Virginia and Richmond were central to the establishment of American independence. In Richmond, Patrick Henry delivered the renowned “Liberty or Death” speech atop Church Hill at St. John’s Church in 1775. Lawmakers signed Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom at a temporary state capital building in 1786. On the other hand, human bondage and Jim Crow segregation stood in direct contrast to the role Virginia and Richmond played in defining American freedom.
Only recently has Richmond rebounded from intense population decline during the late twentieth century. Following the city’s annexation of portions of Chesterfield County in 1970, Richmond’s population peaked at 249,621. Over the last three decades, however, RVA experienced a 20 percent decrease in population. The capital city’s population hit its lowest point, 197,790, in 2000. In the last decade, this population decline has reversed— between 2000 and 2010, the city’s population increased by nearly 6500.
Institutionalized racism during the mid-twentieth century continues to define Richmond’s identity and purpose. Local powerbrokers often did the bare minimum to address social vulnerability and need; they frequently neglected or purposefully under- developed many of Richmond’s black enclaves. However, over the last several decades, Richmond has experienced a cultural and reform-based renaissance; this rebirth seeks to turn the city’s deficits into municipal assets. In fact, recent plans to address the city’s deficiencies have become Richmond’s principal asset—particularly in terms of combatting poverty. Many of Richmond’s sore spots—the city’s most profound character flaws—are also pockets of profound promise.