editor's note

Illustration by Gordon Schmidt

On a November morning 100 years ago in New York City, a YMCA volunteer named Moina left her desk briefly to visit novelty shops in the neighborhood. She was looking for an artificial version of a particular flower, one mentioned in a poem she’d read a few hours earlier in Ladies’ Home Journal. She eventually spotted it at a department store on East Ninth Street between Broadway and Fourth Avenue. She bought a large one for the vase on her desk and two dozen more to give to the men passing through the YMCA. The last of them she pinned on the lapel of a young man on his way to France.

The flowers were red silk four-petaled poppies, and they quickly caught on as a symbol of remembrance for the soldiers who died on the battlefields of Europe in World War I. For the rest of her life, Moina Michael pinned one on herself every Nov. 11, Remembrance Day in Britain and Veterans Day in this country. Inspired by her example, millions of others have also done so ever since, an elegant gesture of acknowledgement and gratitude.

Questions about what and how we remember were on our minds as we worked on the autumn issue of the magazine. As a result, two very consequential anniversaries for Richmond feature in the issue. The first is the 125th anniversary of an incident at a baseball game that conferred a fittingly unique identity — the Spiders — on a university that has become unlike any other in the nation. We saw this anniversary coming years ago and have had it circled on our calendars.

As they read, they ask themselves, 'What are we not seeing? What has been excluded?'

The other anniversary came onto our radar much more recently. We have a project archivist in Boatwright Library to thank for letting us know about it. This semester marks 50 years since a young man named Barry Greene moved into Freeman Hall to begin his first semester at Richmond. What made this commonplace occurrence remarkable is that in doing so, he became the university’s first black residential student. He talks with President Crutcher about his college experience here.

The archivist who noted this anniversary, Irina Rogova, has spent several years helping students dig through the university’s records as part of the student-initiated Race and Racism Project. Its impetus was a recognition by some students of the absence of the experiences of people of color in the university’s history. They are working to remedy that by pulling out old yearbooks, Collegian issues, and such and looking for stories not widely known. One student presenting her research in the Brown-Alley Room in July explained that, as they read, they ask themselves, “What are we not seeing? What has been excluded?” Put another way, they are reading to reconstruct what our communal lapses in memory have lost and left out.

They do so with the hope of creating a richer understanding of and sense of belonging in this campus community. Theirs is sensitive work that makes blindnesses of the past uncomfortably apparent to us in the present. Even more uncomfortably, it urges us to recognize the inescapable conclusion we surely have blindnesses of our own awaiting the disbelief of future generations. Not seeing these ourselves, we’re incapable of addressing them, but we can certainly do something about the ones laying out before our eyes in plain sight.