Monday, December 11, 2006

Urban renewal archives now open to public by appointment

Letter from assistant city manager

November 28, 2006

Dear Mr. Hawkins,

I am writing in response to the concern that you expressed at City Council meeting of November 20th about the accessibility of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s photographs of areas and housing in the city that were demolished during the period of urban renewal.

The photographs are as accessible to you and anyone that would like to see them as they were when you called me in the past and made your request to see them and photograph them. You should recall that at your request and convenience at that time I invited you to come to the City Hall and the photographs were made available for you to copy which you took photographs. I also told you at that time that I would be happy to help you in any way that I could with your research and I later called you again to share with you that I had found a photograph of the house that you lived in as a child and made that photograph available to you.

As I had also shared with you, the materials have been entrusted to University of Virginia professor Dr. Scot French for a digital project that combines this information along with databases of the Charlottesville Albemarle Historical Society and other research. When completed, the end result will be a comprehensive record of property owners, tenants, records and photographs of each parcel in this area. My agreement with Dr. French is that the original materials will be returned to CRHA in catalogue, in addition to a digitized format.

I would agree that the process is taking a long time, and I am aware that there has been reorganization at the Carter Woodson Institute and a change in the assigned intern which combined, may have impacted this project. However, I continue to support Dr. French’s project and the partnership with the historical society because when completed the end result is such that it will be of great benefit to researchers and scholars that are interested in the photographic records of this period that will be accessible via the Internet. You may also be interested to know that Dr. French and the intern met this past September with about 20 residents that once lived on Vinegar Hill, Kathleen Glen of CRHA and I to update us on their progress. Needless to say, the former residents provided a great deal of information to them that helped guide this project. Their memories of the "good days on the Hill" were educational, inspirational, and undersored the importance of documenting oral histories.

Dr. French also provided an update of the project at a local history meeting at Kenwood this past fall and the scholars and researchers were enthusiastic about the goal of the project. Again, I contend that sharing of this information and collaboration with the university and the historical society to document and record this information will be a greater asset to future researchers and interested parties, even though it is a very long process. Another benefit to this approach is that this work is being done at no cost to the city or CRHA which is a significant savings in additional staff and equipment to accomplish this task.

Although I am not currently holding this information, I will be happy to arrange a time for you to meet with Dr. French, the intern that has been assigned to this project, Kathleem Glen and I. The information that you wish to see and or be provided copies of will be made available to you as I have done in the past at your request.

It would be very helpful if you could send or call me with several dates and times that you are available to meet at Dr. French’s office. Even if you are not interested in a particular photograph, I would encourage you to meet with us and be better informed about this project and perhaps share some of your oral histories and research.

I can be reached by phone at 970-3101 or email at

Very Sincerely,
Rochelle D. Small-Toney
Assistant City Manager

Cc: Gary O’Connell [city manager]
City Councilors
Noah Schwartz [CRHA director]
Kathleen Glen

Hawkins' response

December 11, 2006

Rochelle D. Small-Toney
Office of the City Manager
P.O. Box 911
Charlottesville, Va. 22902

Dear Ms. Small-Toney,

Thank you for taking the time to write me a letter on this topic. While I have documented a different version of recent history than your letter expresses, even so I would like to put any feelings of distrust behind us.

As a gesture of good will and cooperation, I would like to share with you the roots of Jefferson School, which may interest you since you are in charge of the Jefferson School preservation project. The Cville Weekly and Daily Progress have recently reported that the school began in 1894, and I believe that’s the position of the Jefferson School Committee.

Jefferson School opened in the fall of 1865 following the Civil War. By November 1865 the institution had 90 pupils. Attached is a hardcopy of relevant excerpts from Albemarle, Jefferson’s County, 1727-1976, by John Hammond Moore of the Albemarle County Historical Society. I think if more people knew the full history of Jefferson School, the school building would be easier to save although we have been unable to save the school itself.

I would like to make an appointment to view the archives. I will do as I have done in the past. I’ll set up my digital camera at the edge of a table where the light is the best. Then slide document after document under the camera. I don’t think anyone believes the entire archives were available to me in the past and I took only eighteen photographs, and that required two separate trips.

When I first spoke with you on March 25, 2004, you and your secretary Jamie Robinette agreed that documents had disappeared from the archives over the years, hence the need for preservation. What is the total number of documents that you entrusted to Dr. Scot French? How many were photos and how many were text documents?

I’d like to make an appointment in January 2007 to view and photograph the entire surviving archival record or as many documents as I can. The best time for me would be a Friday afternoon around 3pm or in the evening 5-8pm or on the weekend. How about Friday, January 5th?

My purpose is not to copy Charlottesville’s record of urban renewal and public housing, but to copy what’s left of that record at the Housing Authority. The archives have been so tampered with over the years that now the story is about what information officials deemed suitable to survive the intellectual purge, and who have been the custodians of the archives. Needless to say, the archives are being added to as CRHA sells other properties acquired for this purpose, or acquires any new property.

Blair Hawkins


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