Stories of black excellence and the description of a community that persevered over and over against the injustices of racism are what emerged from the Arc Of Citizenship, a two day event this weekend. The Saturday and Sunday tours and talks were an attempt to reveal truths buried by long-held false historical narratives and forge a stronger understanding of the history of how race relations has affected the Valley.
JMU leaders say the naming of the new residence hall after Paul Jennings is a step toward confronting racism that has been embedded in the history of the campus and its namesake, as well as the Harrisonburg community, the commonwealth of Virginia and the country. But some people, including students and community activists in Harrisonburg, are asking what this might signal about the renaming of other buildings on JMU’s campus — the ones named after confederate leaders.
What has been called the Thomas Harrison House for many years — and what the city of Harrisonburg planned to spend $1 million to restore and turn into a museum of the founder’s life — now remains in limbo as city staff decides where to go from here. But some residents see an opportunity for the still-historic, if not as old as first advertised, building to delve into more of the area’s background.
Farm life prepared Rockingham County native Tom Showalter for the strength required for enduring World War II, but not for the terror he would face — when landing on Utah Beach in one of the subsequent waves after D-Day, then facing German soldiers or when a shell exploded near him while on guard duty sending shrapnel through his leg.