As a non-librarian at the Library of Virginia, I am constantly grateful for both the depth of our collections and the knowledge of our archival and reference staff. My job is to help look after Virginia’s State Art Collection, which consists of artworks owned by the Commonwealth on display in public buildings in the Capitol Square area. As part of my job, I do research on state art objects in response to inquiries from the public and in order to flesh out catalog files.
The works in the State Art Collection are mostly what you would expect – portraits of public officials, statues and busts of presidents, and the occasional scenic Virginia landscape. Paintings of private individuals have also become part of the collection over the years, either through association with a notable Virginian, or as a gift to the state. In some instances, as with this portrait of a World War I era soldier, the identity of the subject and the way the piece was acquired have been forgotten, and we are left with a mystery.
As with any piece of material culture, the best place to start is the object itself. There are a few clues in the painting: the signature indicates that it was painted in 1920 by local artist John Pleasants Walker (1855-1932), and the uniform insignia shows that our … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Charles Beckner, the subject of this week’s post, began his life of crime at the age of 14. By the time Beckner died in 1943, he had escaped three times from Virginia correctional facilities.
Charles Edwin Beckner, the ninth child of Winfield and Augusta Beckner, was born on 26 July 1898 in Tennessee. After Winfield’s death in 1902, the family moved to Richmond, Virginia. Charles probably was exposed to crime through his older brother Chester. Chester, alias The Tennessee Kid, was arrested numerous times between 1906 and 1916 for highway robbery, stealing, and fighting. He served several short sentences in jail but was never sentenced to the Penitentiary. Charles wouldn’t be so lucky.
Beckner’s first brush with the law came in March 1913 when he was arrested for theft. Beckner and three other boys were part of a gang of thieves who fenced their ill-gotten loot through Richmond fortune teller “Professor” Wilbur R. Lonzo. The Richmond City Juvenile Court sentenced the boys to the Laurel Reformatory in Henrico County for an unspecified amount of time. In September 1918 Beckner completed his World War I draft card in the Portsmouth City jail. He was arrested on 9 May 1920 for committing … read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Walter E. Stiars, the subject of this week’s post, is in essence the father of Mug Shot Monday. His daring 1906 escape from the Virginia Penitentiary, eerily similar to Andy Dufresne’s in the film The Shawshank Redemption, was the catalyst for requiring that prisoners be photographed.
On 28 February 1905, the Manchester Corporation Court sentenced Walter E. Stiars, age 30, to eight years in the Virginia Penitentiary on two counts of breaking and entering. Penitentiary officials considered Stiars dangerous. They assigned him to work in the office of the Davis Boot and Shoe Company in order to keep him under constant surveillance and away from any tools. The noon dinner bell rang as usual on Saturday, 16 June 1906. During roll call, Stiars did not answer “adsum” when his name was called. A search of the prison revealed he was not on the premises and Penitentiary officials presumed he escaped sometime on the evening of 15 June. Or had he? As a precaution, extra guards were posted along the outer walls. Penitentiary Superintendent Captain Evan F. Morgan was confident Stiars would be captured. “We expect to land him,” Morgan told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 17 June, “and … read more »
Founded in 1928, the original intent of the National Conference of Christians and Jews (NCCJ) was to promote positive relations among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Over the ensuing decades, the group had to figure out whether its stated focus on “the brotherhood of mankind under the fatherhood of God” also encompassed racial unity. Dissent and confusion within the organization led to a lack of clarity in the public eye as to its mission.
On 15 September 1956, Richmond Times-Dispatch editor Virginius Dabney (1901-1995) forwarded to longtime NCCJ Virginia Region Director Peter Mellette (1920-1993) this draft of a letter to NCCJ President Everett Clinchy. In it, Dabney pointed out the ambiguous implications of the word “brotherhood,” and cautioned Clinchy that the organization’s endorsement of racially-focused literature “can not fail to embarrass those of us in the South who are trying to work with you.”
Dabney was labeled a Southern liberal early in his career, partly because of his progressive views on race issues. By the mid-1950s, his interest in equality for African Americans was intact, but he favored a gradual approach. Interestingly, even as he advised the NCCJ to reconsider its message, Dabney himself was about to be limited in the full expression of his own views.
In 1956, Virginia embarked on the path of “Massive Resistance,” the state’s notorious attempt to thwart school desegregation. Although … read more »