Archive for January, 2011

Quick Summary of Reading – Rowe & Ellis

The written works by Rowe and Ellis discuss the history of African Americans in the Williamsburg area. In reading these works, I was surprised to learn of the African American presence here during the latter half of the nineteenth century. According to Rowe, “During the reconstructions, more than sixty percent of registered voters in Williamsburg and James City and York counties were African American…In 1860, blacks outnumbered whites in Williamsburg (864 to 742)…[and] among the 864 were 121 free blacks.” However, this is not to say that African Americans did not face discrimination. Until the desegregation of Williamsburg schools in 1968, black students were educated in separate buildings from whites. The educational institutions established for African Americans were anything but equal to that of white students, as these institutions received considerably less funding. (It is important to remember that before the Virginia Public School System was created, black churches were in charge of education for African Americans). Black citizens faced discriminatory practices in other areas as well, including employment and recreation. In response to this, Rowe tells us that in “March 1941, the State Defense Council of Virginia, chaired by Dr. Douglas S. Freeman, called upon defense contractors, trade unions, and employers not to make a mockery of democracy by refusing to hire African American workers.” And, Ellis points out that “churches, social organizations, clubs, and many bars and restaurants, while open to all, are still essentially separate racially [today] – a reality that does not seem to be a major concern to either community.” Residential neighborhoods also remain racially separated in Williamsburg. During the Colonial Williamsburg project, black and white families were displaced to make room for the reconstruction. As a result, African American families resettled in areas on the outskirts of town including such areas as Centerville and Grove. These racial divides can still be traced on a map of Williamsburg today.

Somewhere New

Somewhere new…somewhere new….While cruising along Richmond Road I kept my eyes peeled in search of somewhere I had never been before. And then out of nowhere, almost as if it was calling to my dusty mode of transportation, I spotted it – Buggy Bathe! I love an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. I quickly switched on my left turn signal and with a swift spin of the steering wheel pulled into the parking lot. There were signs plastered everywhere directing me where to go, so I had no trouble finding my way behind the building, where I was met by a very friendly gentleman in a burgundy polo shirt. At first I wasn’t sure what to say. Did I just ask for a car wash? Thankfully I looked up just in time to notice that the entire back side of the building displayed the different cleaning packages offered. At that point I confidently ordered the ‘coachmen,’ and was handed an order form before being directed inside to the cashier. The backdoor opened to a hallway, of which one entire wall was a window to the drive-thru carwash. Numerous times I’ve seen the inner workings of a carwash from inside my vehicle, but this was the first time I’d actually had a view looking in. (In my opinion, it’s more exciting to be inside the car as it’s being washed.) I stopped for a few minutes to watch the long red pieces of fabric sponge chaotically spread soapsuds across the never ending line of vehicles as they slowly progressed down the conveyer line. A small child next to me seemed to be mesmerized by this process, as he stood with his hands and nose pressed firmly against the glass in full peeking position. After I’d had enough of watching the washing process, I proceeded towards to cashier. Once again I got sidetracked, this time by the ‘for sale’ display. Hanging there on a plastic hanger was the cutest little set of zebra floor mats you’ve ever seen! As I contemplated adding these to my purchase, my brain chimed in, “You’re a broke college student.” So, I left them where they were. Finally, I made it to the cashier. A young lady, also in a burgundy polo shirt, took my order sheet and rang me up. The total was $25.95 ($20.95 for the wash and $5 for tip). Geesh! That’s a little too rich for my blood. The drive thru car wash I normally go to is only $10, but I guess some people would say, “You get what you pay for.” After paying, I looked around the lobby only to find that all of the seats were occupied. I didn’t want to just stand there like a wallflower, so I sprinted across Richmond Road to the Yankee Candle Outlet, which is one of my favorite places to go in the Burg. Luckily I happened to have a coupon, so I picked up a couple candles and some air fresheners for my soon-to-be-clean car before heading back to Buggy Bathe. After waiting what seemed like 20 minutes for a break in traffic which would allow me to cross back over Richmond Road, I got back to the car wash only to find out that my car wasn’t ready yet. As the lobby was still full, I was forced to sit on one of the two wooden benches out front. I found that the low temperature wasn’t as bad as the wind, which was cutting like a knife. To take my mind off of the chill, I watched the workers diligently Windex windows and Armor All tires. I began to daydream, but was quickly brought back to reality by the loud sound of an engine revving up and then suddenly cutting out. To my right, I saw a young employee struggling to get a brand new Corvette over the speed bump at the exit of the carwash. I’m not much of a car enthusiast, but that vehicle demanded attention. It was a shiny black with even shinier black and chrome rims. Sleek; that’s a good way to describe it, and it certainly put my Honda Civic to shame. When the employee finally got the vehicle across the speed bump, one of the patrons in front of me began to giggle. He was a tall man, dressed in full army-issued attire (camouflage gear with tan G.I. boots). He began explaining to another male patron standing next to him that the Corvette was his, and that it was “pushing nearly 600 horsepower” due to a “supercharger” he had recently installed. That’s all I caught of the conversation, because my car was finally done. But, as I pulled out of the Buggy Bathe lot, I looked in my rearview mirror and noticed a crowd of guys surrounding the black Corvette. The owner had popped the hood and stood there smiling like a kid in a candy store, as the other ‘kids’ stood admiring his new ‘toy’.
Why have I never been to Buggy Bathe before? I’m not quite sure. It’s not that far away. It’s not in an area that would make me uncomfortable. I guess it boils down to the fact that, like most people, I’ve beaten a path into my routine and rarely stray from it. When my car needs a wash, and more importantly when I have the extra money, I normally just go to my favorite $10 place. In a way I guess that could be seen as a part of my comfort zone. I’ve been there before. I know how things work. I’ve found that sometimes trying new things, regardless of how simple or trivial the task may be, is unappealing. This is not to say that I don’t like the excitement and adventure that comes with trying new things, but again I have to reiterate the point that all too often human nature allows us to fall victim to that beaten path. In closing, while lack of previous experience left me with no idea of what to expect, I found that Buggy Bathe is a friendly business with an extremely diverse customer base. The next time I have twenty-bucks to spend on a car wash, I’ll probably go back.

Great Wolf Lodge

In choosing a location to visit that I have never visited before, I chose an establishment that is relatively remote, both geographically and culturally, from the city of Williamsburg, and the Williamsburg I am used to.  Great Wolf Lodge is 79,000 square feet of pure entertainment in a hotel.  My perception of the lodge prior to my visit was that it was a somewhat classy establishment that had fun for the whole family.  The word “lodge” carried a certain assumption of rustic accommodations that incorporated nature in some capacity.  It certainly didn’t look overwhelmingly large from I-64.  I knew there was an indoor water park but I didn’t think much of it.  I didn’t do much background research before I made my visit so as to maximize my reaction and thoughts upon arrival.  Any notion of class or incorporation of nature went right out the window as soon as I entered the compound.

To sum up Great Wolf Lodge in one word: enormous.  The amazement began as soon as I turned off of Rochambeau into the enormous Great Wolf Lodge compound.  Giant wolves adorned the entrance, giving it a powerful appearance.  I parked my car and entered the lodge.  Unbeknownst to me, January 31 is a teacher workday in Virginia, which translated into big business for Great Wolf Lodge.  I stopped in my tracks as soon as I entered the Lobby.  It was literally packed with people.  There was a long line just to check in and screaming children everywhere.  I went to the Concierge desk to see why it was so crowded and she told me about the workday.  That the hotel was packed was already too much to handle, add to that the extravagance and enormity of the main lobby, and it was sensory overload.  I didn’t know where to look let alone where to go.  The concierge gave me a basic run down of what I could see and I was able to get my bearings.  There were robotic animals everywhere and a giant fireplace.  The distinct smell of bad pizza was almost overwhelming and I immediately saw the Pizza Hut in the back corner of the lodge.  Behind the elevator I found windows that looked over a vast indoor water park filled with even more people.  Downstairs, I found an arcade the likes of which would throw anyone into an epileptic fit.  Further back was a room with a racecar track in it where you could build your own racecar and race it.  By the elevator, I found a sweets shop, right next to the entrance to the water park.  Makes sense: consume copious amounts of sugar, burn off the energy in a fast-paced water park, take the elevator back upstairs to your room.  Also on the bottom floor, two spas: one for adults, one for children.  Everywhere you looked, there were moving parts, children running around, food, games, lights, animals, processed food.  Great Wolf Lodge is essentially an indoor amusement park.

My Williamsburg is limited to the campus of William & Mary and the immediate surrounding areas, New Town, Monticello, Richmond Road, and Colonial Williamsburg. In my four years of attending William & Mary, I never felt compelled to travel outside the campus environment.  I would always see the Lodge as I traveled down I-64 towards Williamsburg but I never got a chance to visit the lodge.  As soon as I walked into the lodge I felt uncomfortable but I acknowledge that this is most likely due to the fact that it was a three-day weekend and thus, a high volume period for the lodge.  I imagine if it had been an off-peak weekday and there had been fewer people, I would have been able to handle it.  However, the way the lodge is designed and all the amenities it includes was already almost too much to handle.  The lodge is designed to cater to a very specific group of people: middle aged parents and their children ages 7-17 who are looking to burn energy.  There was no learning component or anything that requites a lot of thought.  In fact, there was a game room that is specifically for teens who want to play video games or surf the web.  This room can be found in the back corner of the lower level in a dark room.  Children sitting in the lobby presumably waiting for their parents to check in at Registration could be found staring down at their computers or hand-held gaming systems.  Great Wolf Lodge is anything if not a mindless entertainment zone for children and a vacuum for parents’ wallets.  What makes me even more uncomfortable is that I don’t think I would ever want to take my children to this themed-hotel, lest they start believing consuming that many sweets and wandering off on their own was ever acceptable in the real world.  The campy nature of the hotel fed into a stereotype of American culture that I try not to be a part of.  Specifically, the idea that American children are overloaded with electronics, sugary and processed foods, and material culture and that businesses key into this idea in order to make money.  What was especially frightening was the fact that all these children seemed to be roaming the halls and going in and out of the water park by themselves, without adult supervision.  This theme park is any parent’s nightmare.  Not only could a child easily wander off, but if they wandered outside of the building, they would be in the middle of nowhere and only about 100 yards from a busy highway.  Though I will say the activities provided within the compound are probably a major deterrent for children wandering outside of the Lodge, not to mention the fact that the compound is in the middle of the woods.

My visit was relatively short, maybe 20 minutes.  It would have been interesting to sit in the main lobby and people-watch to get a feel for the kind of people who visit this place.  Great Wolf Lodge was certainly an interesting place to visit but, much like Williamsburg, I believe it is a place where it’s best to stay only one or two nights and not for an extended period of time.  If you have unruly children who have a propensity for running around the house screaming, this is the place for you.  Anybody else should stick to Colonial Williamsburg.

Exploring the Local Unknown

assignment 2 – unknown local

Attached (if I did it right) is my second short assignment, about investigating the local unknown.

You Know What They Say about Assumptions…

I’ve always loved community service- I volunteered in a creative movement class for autistic children in high school, participated in SHOW (Students Helping Out Williamsburg) day before orientation, and became a member of the CKI community service group last semester. Interestingly, the projects I did with CKI in the fall kept me on campus, and I only ventured out once to the surrounding neighborhoods to Trick-or-Treat for UNICEF. At the first meeting last tuesday, however, I discovered that my schedule had cleared up on fridays to allow to participate in the Lafayette trips, where CKI members go to the Lafayette low-income housing complex and help tutor and play with the children. One of my friends had gone to Lafayette last semester, and had loved interacting with the kids there, so I decided to give it a shot, too.

As I walked to a fellow member’s car on friday, I had many expectations of what Lafayette would be. I pictured old, small apartments with flaking paint and deteriorating structures. I envisioned reading to the children from outdated books and playing with board games that were missing pieces. I thought I would be able to recognize fraying bags and old clothes, and expected to be overwhelmed with sympathy for the children and grateful for my own modest, yet affluent, upbringing.

As we turned off of Richmond Road onto a side street that marked my first venture outside of William and Mary’s immediate influence, I began to take in my surroundings. Things didn’t look that different from my hometown. We passed a playground and park that, while modest, looked well-kept and accessible. There were lots of residential houses, which were no “McMansions”, but looked sufficiently comfortable and welcoming. Actually, the oldest and most dilapidated thing I noticed was the car we ourselves were riding in- an older standard transmission with crank-down windows that had probably seen better days. As we continued on, we turned onto a main road which was surprising devoid of stores and restaurants. There was a gas station and a couple of strip malls, but nothing compared to areas I’m used to around the outlets and Richmond Road, which I swear contain every national chain store and food establishment known to mankind. The area was definitely more open and spread out than Colonial Williamsburg and my home in New England, but nothing about it screamed intense poverty to me.

About five minutes later we pulled into Lafayette, and as I took in my surroundings I thought it must be some kind of a joke. The housing complex looked exactly like every other apartment complex or living area I’d been to; the apartments were new and well-kept (although clearly very small); the grass was mowed and groomed; there was even a small playground in the center of the area. This was definitely not what I expected low-income housing to look like. When we walked into the community room of the complex, where kids are sent after school to ‘stay out of trouble’, I was even more surprised. The room consisted of a small kitchen area, an area with tables for the kids to work at, and five computers. Was it small? Yes, but I was extremely surprised by the amount of technology present and the general good condition of the room.

As the kids started to trickle in, the only big difference I noticed between Lafayette and the Williamsburg I was used to was who seemed to live at here. The two community room supervisors were both African American, and most of the kids seemed to be either African American or Hispanic. This is very different from William and Mary, where African American students only make up about a quarter of the student body, and other minorities account for even less. Seeing the kids at Lafayette really made me realize that there does seem to be a sharp distinction based on race here in Williamsburg. It definitely reinforced the message that I hadn’t seen all of the town, and that the student population of William and Mary isn’t very representative of the area. Seeing the children of minorities that came from low income families also reminded me of a curious observation I made last semester- while a vast majority the students at William and Mary are caucasian, almost all of the dining hall employees, construction workers, and housekeepers are from minorities. Just thinking about this sharp dividing line makes me uncomfortable, and I wish there were an easy way to fix the clear racial inequalities I see every day.

The kids themselves, however, shared many of the same interests and personality traits that I did as a child. We all loved playing “Apples to Apples” and kickball, and I even exchanged SillyBands with some of the kids. Contrary to what I had expected, I probably wouldn’t have known that these children came from low income families or that Lafayette was partly subsidized housing if I hadn’t been told previously. The children’s clothes were perfectly fine, their books were up to date, and the well-kept condition of Lafayette hardly suggested a disarray or lack of funds. The program supervisors from Lafayette even offered all the CKI members snacks and soda, which we politely declined but further added to Lafayette’s hospitality and sense of “normality”.

I guess I learned two important lessons from visiting Lafayette friday. The first lesson is that there is definitely a distinct division in Williamsburg between the jobs and education that white individuals receive compared to individuals of minorities. I’ve learned that William and Mary and Colonial Williamsburg don’t tell the whole story of this town, and that many areas are very different from the tourist-centric area that surrounds the college. The second lesson is that places, and people, aren’t always what they seem. Lafayette and its residents did not seem impoverished, and I wouldn’t have connected that it was a low income complex if I had simply driven through. Because things can be different than they appear, I must be careful when interviewing individuals and be sure to keep my own biases in check. Visiting Lafayette allowed me to see Williamsburg in a different light, and I will be sure to keep the lessons I learned friday with me for the rest of my time here and beyond.

I still have so much to learn

Knowing my propensity to get lost in Virginia, where the neighborhoods are not laid out in anything resembling perfect grids, I was very hesitant to delve into this assignment. I also do not have a car, so I would be relying on my legs to get around – something that made me even more nervous, as getting lost would potentially mean a LOT of extra walking. I decided to take a road that would hopefully not allow me to get too disoriented, but could lead somewhere I had never been before – South Boundary Street.

I began my walk along the side that still has bits of campus, seeing buildings I didn’t realize belonged to the College and the Meridian coffeehouse, another place I have never entered. I continued on, past the surprisingly large Baptist Student Center (I had no idea it existed) and some fairly friendly looking houses, most with porches. When I hit Newport Avenue, the sidewalk ended on my side of the street, so I crossed and continued on my way. Soon I saw a sign for a small street called Crump Lane, and I couldn’t resist taking it, even if there was a bit of an alley-esque feel to it. Much to my surprise, I ended up on South Henry Street, across from the William and Mary Law School. It seemed as though I chose the wrong side of Williamsburg to escape W&M. I decided to keep walking anyway, hoping that if I got terribly lost I could just turn around and eventually run into CW. I walked past what looked like some apartment buildings, and eventually saw a house that had different colored curtains in its windows. I was a fan. I continued past more apartment complexes – which really made sense, with the law school so near – until I got to Mimosa Drive. There was a sign warning that there was no outlet, but I figured I could detour down there and then continue along South Henry. Mimosa Drive was home to some REALLY small houses. Some were so small I wasn’t sure they held more than two or maybe three rooms. I walked past another complex – I can’t remember if it was retirement or apartment – and came to some neat looking houses. One was thin but very, very tall and another sort of looked like a barn. I figured Mimosa Drive would end soon, but I kept walking. It did end very quickly after that, so I turned around and made my way back to South Henry. I finally came upon a rather fancy-looking area and decided to risk arrest for being suspicious and have a look around. I was immediately uncomfortable. The homes were incredibly nice. They were large and brick and looked rather new. I’m pretty sure some of them were close to 5,000 square feet. After a walk around the neighborhood, I decided my adventure was finished.

This walk was one of the more interesting ones I’ve taken around Williamsburg – I tend to stick to Colonial Williamsburg. I didn’t realize how much property the College owns outside of the main campus area, although I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising. South Henry Street seemed very long and rather busy, although I was kind of surprised there were still so many trees and not as many houses around as I expected. I guess the law school and graduate student housing takes up quite a bit of space in that area, so that could be part of it. When I felt uncomfortable in the nice neighborhood I ended up in, I realized it was probably because it was so different from where I grew up. I mean, my town isn’t exceptionally poor and of course there were nicer houses, but all of these homes looked incredibly imposing. It was especially striking to see them so close to the much smaller houses I saw earlier. Income disparity happens everywhere, that’s not news to me, it just seemed as though they were two rather different areas. I didn’t see any people around, which I thought was kind of strange since it was a Sunday and the weather was pretty nice for January. Perhaps some of the homes were so new that they didn’t have owners yet, or Sunday afternoons are when most people who aren’t college students run errands. I wish I had gone somewhere to meet or at least observe people – buildings and houses can really only tell you so much – but I think it is also important to see where the people of the town really live. Now, it’s entirely possible that some of the homes I saw are rented by students, but I know that no students could afford to live in the impossibly nice homes I saw. It made me wonder where the people who live there work, if they’re Williamsburg natives, and what their perception of the town is. This assignment made me realize even more how little I know about Williamsburg and made me extremely curious to know more and discover what the people of this town are really like.

Urban Exploring

Recently I explored Williamsburg’s historic Burton Heights School. Built in  the late 1930’s  as a school for blacks. The school remained segregated throughout its operation, even some 12 years after the landmark supreme court decision in Brown v. Board. I learned that like many black schools in the south in the era of Jim Crow, Bruton Heights was underfunded and always a second priority to white schools of the area. Despite this adversity, students at the school excelled and built a strong educational community in the face of inescapable prejudice. I would be interested to know the extent to which The  College was involved in the function of this school which is only several blocks away our campus. Though we often cite our school as having strong ties to Williamsburg’s educational system, I would not be surprised if a school that did not see its first black undergraduate until 1963 was particularly weakwilled in championing the cause of local black residents.

With that said, is pleasing to look around today and see people and ideas which would at one time have been discouraged or even forbidden from becoming a part in local collegiate life.

Supreme Styles

Everyone knows where Nawab is.  A lot of students live or know someone who lives behind Big Lots.  Some students used to go to the Plan 9 in that shopping center, though it’s closed now.  Lots of people have discovered Rita’s after finding Sno-to-Go closed on Sundays.  The occasional adventurous student might check out the CHKD thrift store. Everyone knows this place.  It’s right near the Bloom in the center of town—so why does it look so run-down and sad?  The answer, of course, has to do with the types of business that operate there.  In addition to the shops mentioned, there’s a laundromat, a Subway, a barber, a tailor, and a dingy fabric store.  These aren’t exactly high-income businesses.  One place interested me in particular—it’s newer than all the other shops and it caught my eye with its excellent name: Supreme Styles.

Supreme Styles took over the space Plan 9 Music used to occupy.  I hadn’t been in the store before but I’d seen their window displays when I stopped into Subway this summer.  They had a bunch of printed T-shirts and hair accessories hanging up—not exactly anything I needed, but any place with a name like Supreme Styles sounds pretty cool and I’d made a note to myself to go back when I had time.  I didn’t think I’d buy anything, because Styles means hair, usually, and I don’t need much for mine, and the shop window made it fairly clear that it was black-owned and -oriented—which meant that there might not be much there for me, a white girl not terribly interested in fashion.  Plus there’s always the fear of looking lost and out of place when you enter a cultural milieu not your own.  I’m interested in the multicultural communities of Williamsburg, though, so I wanted to see about Supreme Styles and its identity and place here.

Yesterday, my boyfriend and I finally visited.  It’s kind of what I expected—half black-oriented beauty supply store, half clothing and accessories.  It’s not a large space, but it didn’t seem cramped.  There weren’t any other patrons in the store—just the man behind the cash register.  He greeted us briefly.  There was some gospel music playing quietly in the background.  I looked around at the inventory. Up front they had tons of hair products, aimed at black women and men, and all kinds of hair accessories, from extensions to nets and caps to clips and all sorts of other adornments.  Wigs sat on little mannequin heads on a shelf that ran around the front half of the store. The Boyfriend (who, I should note, is black) got excited when he saw some of the hair products.  He said at one point he and his mom definitely had just about all of them in their bathroom at home, and he remembered his dad putting the same pomade in his hair when he was little.  I thought about my hair history and except for one inexpertly-executed dreadlocks adventure in 12th grade, I’d never used anything besides shampoo and conditioner, and mousse for a couple weeks when I didn’t know what to do with my too-short hair.  I’d only gone into beauty supply stores when I needed blue and pink and purple hair dye in high school—so that made me feel a bit out of my element (the element of minimal hair care?).

There were a few shelves of inexpensive makeup, in far more vivid colors than I’m used to seeing in CVS and Target cosmetics aisles—eyeshadow, lipstick, and nail polish in bright pinks, greens, and blues, and lots of iridescent gold tones.  There were also several racks of inexpensive jewelry—some bangle bracelets but mostly earrings, big silver and gold hoops and colorful, chunky plastic beads.  I found a pair of hot-pink hoops I liked and decided I could spend $1.50 on them.

The front two-thirds of the store contain all the hair & body care products, makeup, and jewelry. The back third is for the clothing.  It’s mostly shirts, but they do sell some pants, and I did see some shoes for sale as well. There were some button-up shirts from brands like Blac Label, but most of the shirts are graphic-printed t-shirts. The jeans I saw were dark blue and had intricate white stitching on the back—although I didn’t note the brands. Many of the clothing items had Williamsburg or Virginia printed or represented on them somehow—although they didn’t look like something you’d buy at the college bookstore. More bright colors and fewer clean-looking fonts (and they didn’t cost outrageous amounts of money).

The counter runs along the store to the right as you walk in.  Part of it is a large display case that contains presumably the more expensive items: hats, jewelry (some thick chains, pendants, and earrings), and patches.  To the right of the register was a big display of perfumes, all different colors in identical cylindrical bottles with handmade labels. Next to that was a spinning rack of diamond studs (but I’m inferring here that if they were real diamonds they’d be in the display case under the counter). Behind the counter were some more hats.  Most of them said “VA” and some had the shape of the state stitched on.  Also behind the counter is a TV monitor showing all the security camera feeds.

When we’d been in there a few minutes, the man behind the register asked if we lived here. We told him we’re William and Mary students, and he told us if we are part of organizations that need t-shirts printed up, we should let him know.  We asked if it was a slow day, since we were in there about fifteen or twenty minutes and hadn’t seen anyone else come in.  He said he’d had a lot of business that morning—people had been waiting outside when he got there to open the store.  I paid for my earrings and we left.

I was a little uncomfortable when we first came into the store.  I am white and it’s not a store geared towards white people—I’ve never really dealt with many racial issues growing up in a rural white town, so it’s surprising to walk into a business and suddenly become acutely aware of race.  It was never something I had to be aware of, because everyone else was white.  So when I go in places like Supreme Styles, I have a moment of “ah! I’m white!” where I’m used to not thinking about it.  But I felt protected because I had The Boy with me, because he’s black and familiar with some of the merchandise here, so I felt like that was my justification for coming in—even though I’m the one who wanted to come in the first place.  But that’s a little silly. Like the man at the register would judge me for coming in without some evidence of connection to a black person—of course not. They sell all kinds of soap in there too (for cheap!), and everybody needs soap. The man who works there isn’t going to look askance at me if I come in by myself sometime—who knows, maybe he’ll remember me and we’ll have a conversation.  Though the store serves the black community of Williamsburg, strengthening ties through local identification (hats printed with “VA”–hmm, I’d like to explore clothing as a statement of local belonging), it’s not barred to people who aren’t among the black community, and it’s a good exercise to push your comfort levels from time to time.

Finding Warmth in Williamsburg’s Unassuming Places

When I first read this assignment I figured it wouldn’t be too difficult for me to complete because there are numerous places in Williamsburg that I have never even seen, much less visited purposefully.  For once my habit of putting things off came to good use because there was a church in town that I’d been meaning to visit but I had just never made it there on Sunday morning.  Williamsburg Baptist Church sits near the corner of Scotland Street and Richmond Road, its large brick patio welcoming passersby.  I first became interested in the church because of a plaque that’s displayed near the front doors which briefly explains its history and the church’s deep ties to the Williamsburg community.

I drove up to the parking lot at about 10:56 am, a mere four minutes before the service was supposed to begin.  The lot was practically full, but I rolled down my window to ask a man if visitors without a pass could park.  He answered, “Of course, and don’t sit all the way in the back!”  I assured him I wouldn’t, and found a space.  I was greeted by a few friendly faces when I entered the sanctuary and searched for a spot in a pew near the middle of the room.  It was pretty full, so I ended up sitting about five pews back from the front, near a woman dressed in red who smiled when I sat down.

It has been three years since I started my “church shopping” in Williamsburg and until I tried out First Baptist, I’d yet to find a place that felt welcoming, genuine, and truly the way I feel a loving and accepting Christian community should be.  Going into any new community for the first time can be nerve wracking, and I expected that.  The fact that First Baptist is a predominantly black congregation intimidated me a little (definitely no pretending you’re not a visitor), but last summer I attended a lot of different “black” churches so, thankfully, I was able to ignore the fact of skin color and just appreciate the experience for what it was— which turned out to be just what I’ve been looking for.

Although I’d never been to First Baptist Church in Williamsburg, the members there made that feel like a non-issue.  During the service, I introduced myself (as per the pastor’s request), and afterward countless individuals came up to speak to me, asking about my major, where I’m from, what I want to do after graduation, and adding that they hope to see me again.  Being raised in a family where we were taught the importance of speaking to everyone and being genuinely courteous, these conversations seemed natural to me despite having visited numerous churches where, to put it lightly, I left desiring something much more.  Leaving church, I was so happy to realize that, even in Williamsburg, there are churches full of members who act lovingly and welcoming to strangers.

While there were many older people in attendance on Sunday, I also noticed a number of families with younger children.  Besides me, I think there were about twelve others visiting for the first time who introduced themselves.  I talked with another student from William and Mary after the service, but besides him, it did not seem like there were many other students in the congregation.  Although I didn’t ask anyone personally, I assume most of the members are regular attendees who live in the Williamsburg area if not the city itself.

In general, I feel like Williamsburg presents itself as a fairly homogenous, segregated place.  I mean, it’s not usually difficult to determine who’s who among tourists, students, and townspeople, but what I mean is that the local population of “regular” residents seems to be represented most generally as middle- to upper-class white people.  Walking through William and Mary’s campus, it’s obvious that this is not the case, and visiting a place like First Baptist Church emphasizes that even more.  As students, particularly ones who are researching the city of Williamsburg and attempting to enable others to understand the city’s history more clearly,  I think it’s extra important that we draw attention to the fact that there are groups of people who, like in many cities and towns across America, are underrepresented in the historical renderings of their places.

I am thankful that this assignment gave me the extra urge I needed to visit First Baptist Church of Williamsburg.  The group that meets there every week is certainly a thriving, significant part of the city’s culture and history. (It’s existed since 1776!)  Not only did I discover a welcoming, loving community in what can often seem like a stuffy, resistant-to-change place like Williamsburg, my experience also reiterated the importance of examining and appreciating the multi-faceted nature of places.  I definitely won’t be surprised to find myself sitting on the fifth pew again next week.

Dining in Grove

Yesterday, Sunday, January 30th, around 4:45pm, Miss Addie Alexander and I took off on an adventure to find another side of Williamsburg – a place we’d never been, and a place that would reveal to us something, anything, that we did not know about this place in which we reside.  When Addie picked me up, our discussion first fell to something along the lines of “well, OK, where do you want to go?”  It was liberating to be able apply my love of the unknown to an academic assignment, and to know that wherever we went, whatever we did, we would be doing the assignment “right.”  After all, there are no wrong answers in exploring.

Initially, we came up with several general ideas about the kind of place we might want to visit.  We thought of restaurants and churches, mostly, places where some of the essentials of human life, to many people, are expressed and enjoyed.  We also decided that we wanted to get out of the tourist bubble of William and Mary and Colonial Williamsburg.  With these thoughts in mind, we drove down Lafayette, past the very edge of CW, past some very empty-looking hotels, to the little community of Grove.  My boyfriend had done some work out there last year for the WDP, and under his approximate driving directions, we headed into the unknown.

The first thing that I noticed about the community of Grove, right along the side of 60 East, was that the houses have a very different character than those in the Williamsburg with which I am more familiar, not only because of their architectural style and occasional state of disrepair, but because of the juxtaposition of old and new.  We passed by condemned buildings, crumbling at their foundations, burnt out buildings, just sitting there, and then, suddenly, a brand new development of yard-less cookie cutter houses, internally compressed and externally squished by a trailer park and vacant industrial buildings.

To add to the strangeness of these crisp little homes, the road that ran through the middle of them was called “Algonquin.”  Poor Algonquins, murdered, decimated, and relegated to the street name of a twenty-first century sub-division.  In a way, the street reminded me of the frontier-style Taco Bell, a remnant of history manifest in a simple and unimposing homage.

After driving around for a while, Addie and I decided to venture in to a little sports bar and restaurant on the side of route 60, just past the Grove Christian Outreach Center.  I have to admit, I was a little nervous at first, due to the presence of a somewhat intoxicated man peering out the window and following our approach.  Despite the fleeting moment of hesitation that our on-looker caused, Addie and I ventured inside.  The place was dark, a little dingy, with the faint aromas of cigarettes and friend chicken – but also, a perhaps most importantly, the place was warm and friendly.

Sitting at the bar, with the glow of the kitchen as our primary light source, the two of us ordered Budweiser on draft (the only option), and a big plate of nachos.  Addie, who is a vegetarian, asked what would come on the nachos.  “Cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, green peppers, onion…you know, usual things,” replied the thin and tough woman behind the counter.  When the nachos arrived, they were covered, in addition to the ingredients that had previously been listed off, in dark colored morsels – ground beef.  I guess the bar tender assumed ground beef to be an essential part of nachos, perhaps as essential as the tortilla chips, and that therefore there would be no need to mention it.  The cultural attitudes towards food, and especially towards the consumption of meat, were immediately apparent, especially in juxtaposition to the knowledge regarding and acceptance of vegetarianism present in the “college town” portion of Williamsburg.

As we munched on our nachos (one of us more reserved in her munching than the other), people passed in and out of the bar.  Everyone there seemed to know each other – Addie and I were the odd ones out.  And sure enough, as we were finishing up our new meal, a new waitress approached us, remarked that she hadn’t seen us before, and asked where we were from.  She seemed genuinely interested, and also genuinely sincere in her hope that we would come back soon.  The woman, who had a strong accent (from some Southeast-Asian language that I could not discern), said she’s worked in the little restaurant for fifteen years.  A true local, I thought, despite my suspicion that she may have immigrated to the United States from another country.  The encounter left me feeling distinctly welcome, distinctly different, and distinctly satisfied.

Walking back to the car through relatively warm winter air, I was happy with our visit.  After driving back through Grove in the darkness, and back up Lafayette, Addie and I stopped off at the Bloom on Richmond Rd.  I went from a place I’d never been to a place I go several times a week.  I traveled from ground beef back to soymilk and Greek-strained yogurt.

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About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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