The week of March 1-8 is many things but in Richmond, Virginia, it’s sacred. Richmond’s Black Restaurant Experience is this week, a time dedicated to supporting the city’s Black owned restaurants. The event this year features 35 restaurants, all of which offer amazing cuisines at affordable prices. While the idea of celebrating Black restaurants may seem routine to some, it’s a pretty big deal in the former capital of the Confederacy.
Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America for most of the Civil War. The city was a vital source of weapons and supplies for the Confederacy and the terminus of five railroads. Richmond was so important that General (later President) Grant made it his highest mission to capture the city: after Richmond fell in 1865, so did the Confederacy. Still, reminders of that dark chapter are evident in Richmond, like Monument Avenue. Monument Avenue is lined with statues memorializing Virginian Confederate veterans, including Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury. There is another statue, however, one of Black Richmond native Arthur Ashe.
Although a son of Richmond, Arthur Ashe’s statue didn’t go up without a fight. Indeed, there was tremendous protest and backlash, at the thought of a Black man “integrating” sacred Confederate space. The Ashe monument and the circus around it give greater context to the significance of Richmond’s Black Restaurant Experience. That Black chefs and other entrepreneurs are celebrated, in Richmond, means something. Despite the history that has not been atoned for, Black entrepreneurs are forging their own path and creating the future. They say that “the South will rise again” and in a sense, Black entrepreneurs are choosing the form of that resurrection.