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Rising and Falling Families: Reframing Race and Capitalism in Virginia’s New South

By Derek Vouri-Richard, 2021-2022 American Studies Graduate Assistant

My exhibit, Rising and Falling Families: Reframing Race and Capitalism in Virginia’s New South looks at different Virginia families from the New South to interrogate the relationship between economic changes and racial dynamics in Virginia after the Civil War and Reconstruction period. During this period Southern markets incorporated into a developing national economy through creating new institutions, laws, and business relations. These changes affected families in different ways. Often, the relationship between New South families and the larger social context differed based on race. As Virginia modernized, Black people and organizations entered a growing political economy in which White families had built infrastructures of wealth and power across generations. Around the turn of the century, Black businesses, colleges, and families became the institutions through which Black citizens entered the free market and challenged historical ideologies embedded within the economy.   

Rising and Falling Families analyzes four historical events from Virginia’s New South economy, with a specific eye on the people and families involved in shaping these events. The first section of the exhibit analyzes the formation of the Jamestown Exposition Company in 1902 by men of the Old South aristocracy. The second section looks at the 1907 Jamestown Exposition, which celebrated the 300th anniversary of the English settlement of Jamestown. In the third section, the exhibit considers the rise of a new social class of business owners in the New South by illuminating Samuel Harris of Williamsburg, Va. and Edward L. Stone of Roanoke Va. The exhibit’s final section explores Williamsburg’s twentieth-century Black business district by foregrounding one of the families who were crucial to developing this economic region, the Webb-Williams family.

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