TRAVEL STORY - "Learning About Black History ---in Richmond, VA" - AmNews Curtain Raiser


Friday, May 13, 2022

TRAVEL STORY - "Learning About Black History ---in Richmond, VA"


"Learning About Black History ---in Richmond, VA"

Suraj Sansi Contributing Writer

I was born in India and I am new to this country, happy to call New Jersey my new home.  One of the things that I enjoy is traveling and discovering the history of Brown and Black people — African Americans — in the U.S. I will admit, in school, we learned very little about their contributions so when the opportunity to visit historic Richmond Virginia presented itself, me and my wife, took it as a sign because we visited during Black History Month.

What a great opportunity for us to begin to understand just how much this community contributed and continues to contribute to Virginia, and this country in general.

Our stay was at the Graduate Richmond Hotel, with a check-in that was so smooth, it was done in minutes! It didn’t take long for us to realize just how much we enjoyed the arts and culture we were introduced to as we explored Richmond, choosing to spend our evening in the Downtown Richmond Arts District Galleries on Broad Street.  As luck would have it, we arrived on the First Friday of the month, which celebrates “First Friday, Art Walks” which celebrate the creativity of our city and features various works and performances by local Richmond, regional and national artists.

Broad Street is a treasure and is just a five-minute walk from the Graduate Richmond Hotel, and since the weather was perfect, it made street exploration easy.  We visited the amazing Ann’s visual studio and enjoyed the live band music along with exclusive arts. Among the many beauties, we were fascinated the most by "Eddie in Providence'' artwork by Ryan C. Eubank, made from discarded Lids, caps, buttons & salvaged paint, and the “People of Main Street'' or Driftwood “Calico Marlin” by Greg Lewis.

The next gallery we visited was the Candela Gallery. The gallery had a special exhibition named Coming down to earth.  Through a series of literal and conceptual narratives, Coming Down to Earth examines and challenges the viewer’s perception of the landscape.

Gallery 5 was another gallery we visited. Gallery5 hosts weekly visiting art groups and is one of the main venues in the region for unique and progressive performance art programs. Local and national artists in the fields of improvisation comedy, spoken word, cinema, live music, contemporary dance, and theater will perform.

The Institute of Contemporary Art is designed by Steven Holl. The ICA’s Markel Center is an iconic new landmark for the City of Richmond. Admission to ICA is free and open to all. What impressed me here was the sensory art floor! 

Let’s eat! We had a delicious dinner at Lillie Pearl where we dined on Southern Fried Chicken, lobster, and crab cakes, a must when visiting and the ambiance is relaxing. If you have a sweet tooth (and, we do) don’t skip on the deserts. 

The next morning, we enjoyed muffins and cakes with hot coffee for breakfast at the hotel. Then we headed for the tour of the Richmond slave trail along with Elegba Folklore Society’s president and artistic director, Janine Bell. Janine is exceptionally welcoming and shared with us the history of black lives and their journey to the United States. The Richmond Slave Trail is a walking trail that tells the tale of enslaved Africans being transported from Africa to Virginia until 1775, and then from Virginia, particularly Richmond, to other parts of the Americas until 1865. It all starts at Manchester Docks, a prominent port in the vast downriver slave trade that made Richmond, from 1830 to 1860, the main supplier of enslaved Africans on the east coast of America. The walk then passes through Richmond's slave markets, besides the Reconciliation Statue honoring the worldwide triangle slave trade, though Lumpkin's Slave Jail and the Negro Burial Ground, and on to First African Baptist Church, a pre-Civil War center of African American life. 

Janine toured us around the Slave trail in Richmond city and shared the detailed history and importance of the slave trail. We were overwhelmed to know about the history that took place while walking around the slave trail.

We stopped by the scenic overlook to view and heard the story of Richmond's Capitol and Capitol Building. After this it was a quick lunch at the famous Mama J’s in Richmond St, we enjoyed the yummy chicken sandwich! The food is delicious at Mama J’s and they have great service too.

Later we visited the Maymont which is a 100-acre American home that James and Sallie Dooley, who lived there from 1893 until 1925, gave to the town as an amazing gift. It absolutely has something for everyone to enjoy, whether it is wandering around the grounds, viewing the estate, watching river otters frolic, etc. The Japanese garden at Maymont is a popular tourist attraction. It’s a must-visit for anyone who plans to visit Richmond. We enjoyed the beautiful sunset here right beside the lake and feeding the ducks!  

The next day, we chilled at the park with some amazing food and music. 

We visited the Virginia Museum of fine arts (VMFA). There's plenty to see and do at the VMFA, including unique exhibitions, collections spanning the globe and the history of creative achievement, two restaurants, a must-see store, talks and activities that bring the art to life, and much more!

We hopped into some local breweries as Richmond has some famous Beer Trail here. We tried the locally made beers at Vasen Brewing company. Its beers combine the experimental spirit that defines American craft beer with the rustic and funky flavors of Belgian farmhouse. You can even look in the brewery right beside the lounge while enjoying the beer. 

We visited the historic American Civil War Museum which was founded in 1978. Hundreds of unique artifacts, dramatic theatrical experiences, and intriguing images are among the highlights.

By the time we finished the museum tour, it was about to be a perfect sunset view, which we experienced from the  Tyler Potterfield memorial bridge right next to the museum. 

The evening was finished with mouthwatering chicken pasta, wood-grilled salmon, and drinks at the Firebirds Wood Grill! I must admit the pasta was indeed super delicious!  If you are in Richmond don't miss eating at this place, 10/10! 

On the way home, we visited the Historic St. John's Episcopal Church- where Patrick Henry gave his 'give me liberty or give me death' speech. We toured the grounds of the oldest church in Richmond. Heard the story of Patrick Henry's famous speech in 1774 and visited the grave markers for George Wythe and Elizabeth Poe.

Richmond Virginia is a place full of history, art and culture, and delicious food. While driving around, we were pleased to see beautiful murals covering the walls of local restaurants and shops. Many art museums in Richmond attract visitors from all across the country. Many artisans from different backgrounds and cultures showcase their talents at stores and markets here. We also had the opportunity to taste a broad range of delicious cuisines. Richmond indeed has a wide variety of things to do, be it enjoying the Sunday afternoon with food and music, walking through the galleries, enjoying sunsets at downtown skylines on James River, Street or even the wide outdoor trails. It was an astounding trip for me! Will plan my revisit here! 

Here are the highlights: 


First Friday Art Walk 

Some fun galleries and shops to visit are ADA Gallery, 1708 Gallery, Gallery 5, Little Nomad, Someday, Rotate and the Institute for Contemporary Art (it’s the big modern building on the corner of Broad and Belvidere Streets – you can’t miss it! A REALLY great art modern art museum).

Let’s eat! Richmond Black Restaurant Experience is a week dedicated to celebrating Black-owned restaurants, chefs, food trucks, and caterers. Their signature event is Mobile Soul Sunday, which is that day at Monroe Park (about a 10-minute easy walk from your hotel!) from noon – 5:00 pm. There will be over 20 food trucks, plus live music and beer. 


The American Civil War Museum: is one of the only Civil War museums in the country that views the war from all perspectives – Union, Confederate, enslaved, and free African Americans, soldiers, and civilians. The museum does tours on both Saturday and Sunday at 11:00 am and 2:00 pm. They are open from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm. Before or after your visit, you can walk over to see the James River via the T. Tyler Potterfield Memorial Bridge. It’s a great way to see the Class III and IV rapids! It makes  for some good photo ops as well 

Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (features over 33,000 works of art spanning 5,000 years. The VMFA is open 365 days a year and is free to the public, minus special exhibits). Be sure to check out Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War statue in the museum’s sculpture garden. You will not need a pass for this, as the museum is free.

The Poe Museum is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year! They will have activities going on all year.

Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia – located in the historic Jackson Ward neighborhood (known as the Harlem of the South), this museum tells the stories of Black history, art, and culture in Virginia. They are only open Thursday – Saturday from 10:00 am -5:00 pm, FYI. Admission is included in your Attraction Guest Pass.

St. John’s Church – this is where Patrick Henry gave his famous ‘give me liberty or give me death’ speech! It’s located in Church Hill, which is Richmond’s most historic neighborhood and it’s just beautiful. St. John’s Church is only open Saturdays 10:00 am – 4:00 pm and Sundays 1:00 pm – 4:00 pm. Also nearby is Libby Hill Park, which is the park that gave Richmond its name (because of its resemblance to Richmond on the Thames in England). 

Other Activities:
Walk around the Arts District to see some of the Mending Walls murals (a map for a self-guided tour is attached – but can also be found on their website).  Mending Walls is an art project started by muralist Hamilton Glass that brings together public artists from different cultures and backgrounds to create murals that address where we are now in society, and how we can move forward through understanding and collaboration. Each mural has a QR code that you can scan, which will tell you all about the mural and its artists.

Maymont: this is a 100-acre historic estate and park located in Richmond with both Italian and Japanese gardens, a petting zoo, and a nature center. included on the Attractions Guest Pass

Richmond Slave Trail: I’m going to see if I can get someone to give you a tour of this. Stand by for that!

If the weather is bad, and you need the stuff to do inside, check out Tang & Biscuit (Richmond’s shuffleboard club and bar) or Hotel Greene (not a hotel – but actually an indoor mini-golf course, restaurant, and bar).


Breakfast suggestions: Urban Hang Suite is a great place for coffee and quick breakfast! Currently, it’s only open Monday – Friday at 7:30 am, so maybe you can get this on your way out of town. Perly’s is close to your hotel and serves traditional Jewish deli food. SB’s Lakeside Love Shack is a breakfast/brunch/lunch spot with everything on the menu as a tribute to the band the B-52s  Moore Street Café, located in Scott’s Addition, is a classic diner serving breakfast all day. They are popular for their Moore-Mosas, which is an individual-sized pitcher of mimosas in a variety of flavors.  The Fancy Biscuit is great if you’re looking for a decadent Southern biscuit!

Lunch suggestions: Ms. Girlee’s Kitchen (I believe they are only to-go at the moment, but you could eat this at Libby Hill Park or Chimborazo Park, both of which are nearby). I HIGHLY recommend the chicken sandwich! Mama J’s Kitchen is a Southern restaurant located in Jackson Ward – they were actually James Beard nominated a few years ago for customer service. Plus the food is delicious! Zorch Pizza is great! It’s located in Carytown, which is our big shopping district, so it would be fun to walk around over there anyway. Peter Chang, located in Scott’s Addition, is authentic Szechwan cuisine. ZZQ is an outstanding Texas-style barbeque – they have a great outdoor patio as well.

Dinner suggestions: Birdie’s, a brand new oyster and raw bar, located in the Arts District. Lillie Pearl, walkable from your hotel, opened during the pandemic and is fantastic. Lillie Pearl is a homage to Chef Mike Lindsey’s grandmothers and serves the cuisine of West African heirloom ingredients melded with Southern dishes from Chef Mike’s North Carolina roots. JewFro is a new Jewish and African fusion restaurant – they are open for lunch as well.  Alewife is a restaurant in Church Hill serving Mid-Atlantic seafood influenced by the Chesapeake Bay. Restaurant Adarra, located in Jackson Ward, is a Basque-inspired restaurant with a great wine list.

Misc.: Ruby Scoops and Suzy Sno are great dessert places, both owned by Rabia Kamara, who recently competed on and won The Food Network’s Clash of the Cones. Ruby Scoops is an ice cream shop and Suzy Sno is a New Orleans-style snowball shop. 

The Richmond Beer Trail – this can be your guide to all of our regional breweries (we have almost 40 at this point!). A good starting point would be the Scott’s Addition neighborhood, which has not only a bunch of breweries but a few cideries, wineries, and distilleries as well – even a meadery! 

Wine Bars: a few wine bars have popped up around Richmond recently! Bateau is a wine bar downtown right on the Canal Walk. Jardin is located in the Fan neighborhood and has a great, heated outdoor patio.  Brambly Park is an outdoor winery, restaurant, and concert venue in Scott’s Addition.

If you want to grab a late-night snack, I recommend Black Lodge – it’s the newest spot from chef Brittanny Anderson, who recently competed on Top Chef. They serve late-night fancy hot dogs, sandwiches, caviar and shot specials, and nice cocktails. Next door to Black Lodge is Brenner Pass, another of Brittanny’s restaurants, where you can grab an Alpine-cuisine dinner.

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