While choosing images for our February Sourcebook — 150 years of Richmond history in photos — we looked at hundreds and hundreds of pictures, and talked to archivists and academics about them. Afterward, we decided to share the favorite photos — and comments — of some of Richmond's most eminent historians.
Edward Ragan of the Valentine Richmond History Center picked an image of an African-American man, post-Civil War, tending tobacco plants in an empty lot on what is now Monument Avenue. Ragan says the image compels him because it's so incongruous with the formidable elegance of that street today.
Maureen Elgersman Lee, executive director of the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, picked a photo of John Mitchell Jr., an African-American business leader who used his newspaper, The Richmond Planet, as a megaphone for civil rights advocacy. She says the picture — Mitchell is standing in front of a vault at the Mechanics Savings Bank, is iconic because it illustrates the "progressiveness at the close of the 19th century."
Author and historian Selden Richardson, a Richmond native, chose a photo of a Ku Klux Klan parade on Grace Street in 1924. He says that even though people may be astonished by the idea that such a thing could happen less than 100 years ago, the photo shows how far we've come as a city. He adds that while Richmond is still "hugely flawed," at least this display of fascism and hatred is "anathema in our time."
And Ray Bonis, an archivist at VCU Libraries for nearly 20 years, picked two far less dramatic photos. They're of Floyd Avenue and Cherry Street in about 1910, and they display the banal happenings of everyday life in the city. He likes them because he passes by the same spot on his way to work. So seeing the photos is like "stepping back in time in a familiar place." Plus, there's a bit of irony in the box camera that one of the women in the photo is holding because it's the same kind that was used to take her photo as she stood there.
For the record, one of my favorite photos is an image of a boat on the James in the fog. I like the look of both water and fog, and in this photo, they lend mystery to the city. —Nancy Nusser, managing editor