RVA Magazine, July 31, 2019: GRTC Connects: Route 12 – Church Hill to the East End
Strolling down the tree-lined avenues of historic homes, manicured mini-lawns, and tastefully curated porches of Church Hill, one could be forgiven for thinking they were out on a jaunt in Georgetown or Old Town Alexandria. Alas, a glance down 29th street toward the James River provides a reminder that this is still Richmond; the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument towers here over Libby Hill Park, one of the neighborhood’s grandest green spaces.
Upon this hill 282 years ago, William Byrd II — a notoriously cruel slaveowner — observed that this bend of the James reminded him of a view from his childhood, that of the Thames from Richmond Hill on the outskirts of London. The name of the neighborhood also derives from a nearby landmark: Saint John’s Episcopal Church. Within its four walls, Patrick Henry persuaded the First Virginia Convention to send its troops to fight the British with a cry of “Give me liberty or give me death!” If Church Hill is a neighborhood with a long memory, then its collective consciousness likely has whiplash from the rapid change that has swept across this part of the city over the past decade and a half.
This past March, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition released a study on gentrification and cultural displacement. In the report’s Richmond section, local urban planner Shekinah Mitchell documents the “racialized wave crashing onto the shores of neighborhoods” in the city’s East End like Church Hill.
In 2016, the number of black and white people in Richmond was roughly equal — clocking in at 47% and 46%, respectively, of the city’s population. This equalization marked a drastic shift from the demographics at the turn of the millennium, when blacks made up 57% of the River City and whites just 38%.