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Brown Grove, Virginia Call to Action

From The Brown Grove Preservation Group.

This is your opportunity to let your voices be heard! We ask that you please help us protect surrounding communities and the public who use these roads by submitting a letter to VDOT. We encourage the public to provide comments in support of changing the recommendations for Peaks and New Ashcake Roads to “Recommended for Approval” and to reiterate the need for restrictions on Ashcake and Atlee Station Roads. Written comments are due no later than Thursday, Dec. 16th, 2021. All comments will be reviewed through the VDOT chain of command, with the ultimate decision to be made by the commissioner.

Please click on the link to sign a template letter or you can write your own. It’s your choice!
https://actionnetwork.org/letters/vdot-proposed-thru-truck-traffic-restrictions?clear_id=true&source=direct_link

We thank you for your time!

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Bringing the Darkness to the Light: A Lantern Walk for Africatown, AL

During the past month, AARN has been meeting with Major Joe Womack who is a retired Marine, a resident of Africatown, and an alumnus of the Mobile County Training School, and Anderson Flen who is also an alumnus of the Mobile County Training School and a former resident of Africatown.

Africatown was founded by enslaved people from Africa who were illegally brought to the United States (US) on board the Clotilda. The Clotilda was the last transatlantic voyage of enslaved peoples to arrive to the US in 1860. Federal law made it illegal to transport captive people from Africa to the US in 1808. Meaher, who had chartered the schooner, successfully avoided federal arrest and individuals were separated and enslaved upon arrival to the shores of Mobile, Alabama.

Five years later, following the close of the Civil War, approximately thirty of the enslaved ship-mates reunited. They desired to return to their homeland, but were unsuccessful. The ship-mates pooled their resources to purchase land and established African Town, now known as Africatown. The community members self-governed similarly to their homeland including a chief and two judges. They erected a church and school. They advocated for their rights and fought to vote. Several members even sought reparations for injuries or as pensions for freed people. Africatown remained self-governed until 1960.

One of the historical traditions of Africatown was the annual Lantern Walk. This walk was held yearly to pay homage to the Elders and Ancestors of the Clotilda. Last held in the late 1950s, this historical tradition is about  healing, growth, and remembering. As Anderson notes, ‘the lantern walk is about getting the young people to understand we didn’t do this alone, we need to honor where we came from.” The Mobile County Training School Alumni Association is working to restore this significant historical ceremony with support from AARN and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).

On January 3, 2022, AARN and ICTJ plan to meet with Africatown descendants and community leaders to learn about their vision for recreating the lantern walk and developing a walking tour of their community. The Lantern Walk will be completed by June 2022. High school graduates will take part in the traditional ceremony and complete the lantern walk at the Old Plateau Cemetery, the final resting place of enslaved Africans, African-Americans, and a Buffalo Soldier. Anderson Flen’s theme of the Lantern Walk is “Bringing the Darkness to the Light.”

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Brown Grove, Virginia residents give testimony to stop the destruction of their community

On December 2nd, Brown Grove and Hanover residents provided arguments against any truck, or truck and trailer traffic along the roads of their community. The hearing was in response to the increase in traffic expected as a result of the Wegmans distribution center. This 1.1 million square foot facility will require an estimated 2800 vehicle trips daily. The resulting environmental harms will add to existing injustices from the local airport, cement manufacturer, truck stop, and I-95. Please listen to community testimony at 27 minutes to 1.06 minutes.

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Heirs property research

by James Lennox, AARN Student researcher

For the past semester I have been working on independent research study on heirs property. Heirs’ property refers to instances when there is no clear title or deed. This research has been performed in collaboration with AARN and Reparations4Slavery. Reparations4Slavery is a group out of Denver, Colorado, that focuses on involving white people in the process of reparations. One of the ways they do this is through their online portal that chronicles the history of racism in America, as well as modern forms of institutionalized racism that continue to harm Black communities across the country. My research will be used to update their portal on Black land loss, with a specific focus on heirs’ property. In addition, AARN is creating a repository of oral histories to chronicle reparation efforts.

I have been fortunate to perform oral histories with a wide range of individuals including victims of black land loss, a white reparationist, and an attorney with a focus in heirs’ property law. These interviews were a valuable experience that shaped my understanding of Black land loss and the forms of institutionalized racism that continue today.

Image credit: Ranells, N. (Aug. 31, 2021). NC Cooperative Extension, Wills & Heirs Property: Protecting Black-Owned Land.

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Undesign the Redline @Barnard Symposium

On November 19th – 20th, Barnard College held a symposium, Undesign the Redline. Researchers, organizers, artists, and activists convened at the conference deconstructing the history of racially discriminatory zoning in American cities. Panelists discussed the intersections between residential segregation and education inequity, environmental racism, technology, and the roles that art and storytelling play in preserving and reclaiming the histories of redlined communities.

AARN opened the second day of the conference with Reparations: Remedy the Redline, a session devoted to examining the ways that local reparations efforts may begin to redress the harms experienced by segregated Black communities. Panelists included AARN Co-Founder Dr. Linda Mann and student researchers Claire Choi, Irene Jang, James Lennox, and Corey Shaw. Beginning with a discussion of the necessity of reparations under international human rights law and AARN’s model of repair, panelists then turned to two of AARN’s partnership projects as case studies: Brown Grove, Virginia, and Evanston, Illinois. 

In Brown Grove, AARN has provided legal and capacity-building support to local activists defending their community against industrialization and erasure. Presenters discussed the importance of oral history and multidisciplinary, community-centered advocacy in combating environmental racism.

Turning to AARN’s data-driven research, panelists then discussed the case of Evanston, Illinois, which made history this year as one of the first cities in the nation to implement local compensatory reparations legislation. In Evanston, AARN collaborated with former 5th Ward Alderwoman Robin Rue Simmons to conduct an impact study establishing the history of discriminatory housing policies implemented by the city and enduring harms to Black Evanston residents. Currently, AARN is in the process of conducting an economic calculation of the positive impacts of reparations on Black wealth accrual.


The presentation concluded with panelists sharing reflections about their work with AARN. To learn more about the Undesign the Redline symposium and exhibit, visit undesign.dhcbarnard.org.

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The Brown Grove Empowerment and Strategic Planning Retreat

This past weekend, AARN with support from the International Center for Transitional Justice hosted a two day retreat for the community of Brown Grove, Virginia. Starting on Saturday, November 6th, the community engaged in powerful reflection on their history and the work they have done thus far. As a collective, they centered their principles in their organizational structure. Among all else, they are driven by the pride they feel for their history and their desire to preserve what their ancestors fought to protect . 

On the final day, the Brown Grove Preservation Group defined their future—laying out their visions for all that is to come. Their ambitions for the future paired with the principles at the heart of their efforts attracted several local and state organizations looking to collaborate (VEJC, RASR, & many more). At the outset of the retreat, the community of Brown Grove is in a much better position to capitalize on the momentum they have already built.