The projection upon the facade of the Black history museum of the mustachioed Black man wearing his trademark wide-brimmed hat illuminated the message of the evening: Giles Beecher Jackson had taken ownership of Jackson Ward’s name.
Richmond celebrated the 150th anniversary of historic Jackson Ward by reclaiming its spirit Saturday in the name of Jackson, who rose from enslavement and illiteracy to become the first Black attorney certified to practice law before the Virginia Supreme Court in 1887.
A protégé of Booker T. Washington, Jackson was an entrepreneur, newspaper publisher and civil rights activist who in 1907 curated a Black exhibit at the exposition marking the 300th anniversary of the Jamestown Settlement. His dream was to build a “National Museum for Colored People.”
Historical counternarratives have attributed the Ward’s name to President Andrew Jackson, Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, or a beer garden. But the Giles B. Jackson Day celebration, “Illuminating Legacies,” was part of an ongoing effort by The JXN Project to recontextualize Jackson Ward, one of the nation’s largest historic districts associated primarily with African American culture.
That effort includes placing honorary street signs featuring the names of the Ward’s African American luminaries in a neighborhood whose signposts currently hold the names of enslavers and pro-slavery sympathizers. Second District Councilwoman Katherine Jordan announced Saturday that her office had filed the paperwork for the new signs.
Mayor Levar Stoney officially proclaimed Saturday as Giles B. Jackson Day during the event on Third Street in front of the Greater Richmond Convention Center. He praised sisters Enjoli Moon and Sesha Joi Pritchett-Moon, co-creators of The JXN Project, for explaining to him the history that “goes unnoticed, unexplained, unrecognized about Jackson Ward.”
Jackson Ward was created by Confederate-sympathizing Democrats in 1871 to dilute Black Republican political power by gerrymandering the city’s African American voters into one district.
“For so long, our city has been defined by racism, division, bigotry,” Stoney said. “It feels good, in 2021, to make a statement that we will no longer be defined by that history.”
Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, secured $500,000 in the state budget for The JXN Project and was among the sponsors of a House of Delegates resolution commemorating Jackson’s life and legacy. In acknowledging the longstanding debate over the origin of the Ward’s name, the resolution called Giles Jackson the person “most deserving of the honor as a prominent resident and community leader.”
About a dozen relatives of Jackson’s family were on hand for the event, including his great-granddaughter, Patricia Carter Sluby of Temple Hills, Md.
Sluby, who grew up in the Ward, recalled her grandmother’s stories about Jackson: the scar on his forehead, obtained while serving as a body servant to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee; his capture by Union forces, only to be released by Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant; his co-authoring of a 1911 textbook, “The Industrial History of the Negro Race of the United States.”
Saturday’s event featured food trucks, art activities, neighborhood tours and the illumination of Jackson Ward’s legacy through projections on its historic buildings and monuments. Moving ahead, The JXN Project will launch a lecture series and host other events.
Enjoli Moon expressed hope that The JXN Project will not only have an immediate impact but also one “over the next 150 years as we look forward to what Jackson Ward can actually be.”