The efforts of Colonial Williamsburg to, in the words of the New York Times, get the past “right” continue to make news. As we noted recently in the EV Blog, Colonial Williamsburg moved the building that housed the Bray School for enslaved and free Black children to a more prominent location in an effort to center the stories of the non-white people who contributed to the colonial community.
While some have accused the historic site of going “woke,” Cliff Fleet, who heads the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, counters that it’s leaning into its mission of presenting “fact-based history.”
This means presenting the history of not only the enslaved and free Blacks who lived and worked in Williamsburg but also Indigenous histories and the histories of LGBTQ+ people, as we recently highlighted in our EntryPoint program on Thomas/in Hall’s life.
It also means acknowledging that sites like Williamsburg contain a host of complicated legacies, which Encyclopedia Virginia reflects in its entries on Williamsburg during the Colonial Period and the restored and reconstructed Colonial Williamsburg, which in its earliest decades presented a version of history that, as EV notes, “did not reflect a sophisticated understanding of the many different groups that had once inhabited the former capital—men, women, Black, white, Indian, enslaved, indentured, and free—and how they had interacted.” As the Times notes, one architectural critic called it a “superbly executed vacuum.”
Getting the past right means filling this vacuum with the facts that accurately and better reflect history, as with our upcoming new section “By the People: The Inclusive Story of Revolution in Virginia, 1763–1800.”
Of course, EV hasn’t always gotten the past right either. History is a moving target, and we’re working to update our content and approach to keep pace, whether it’s revisiting our Virginia Indian content or updating existing entries to reflect new findings or understandings of the past.
What stories do you think are important to getting Virginia’s past right? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what events, people, or places you think are missing from the story of the Revolution or other eras in the Commonwealth’s history.