Woodie Walker II - Recovering Lost Voices: The Rappahannock Tribe and the Jamestown Festival of 1957: VCU 3MT Competition
From Samuel Byrd
In 1957 Queen Elizabeth II attended the Jamestown Festival, celebrating the 350th anniversary of the founding of England’s first permanent colony in the New World. In 2007, she returned for the 400th anniversary. During both visits, the Queen met members of Virginia’s Rappahannock Tribe, led in 1957 by Chief Captain Nelson, and in 2007 by his daughter, Chief Anne Richardson. The Rappahannocks were among the Native peoples living in Virginia when the first English colonists arrived in 1607.
This story uncovers what happened to the Rappahannock people between those visits by the Queen.
My thesis, “Recovering Lost Voices: The Rappahannock Tribe and the Jamestown Festival of 1957,” draws from traditional archives, as well as oral histories I have conducted with Rappahannock tribal members. These sources reveal the Rappahannock people brought cultural knowledge and authenticity to the 1957 Festival, helping design and staff a living history exhibit called Chief Powhatan’s Lodge. I argue the Rappahannock people were inspired by their role in the Festival to continue their centuries-long fight for cultural preservation. Chief Powhatan’s Lodge became an affirmative declaration of community.
This fight was not easy. In 1957 Virginia did not classify the Rappahannocks as Indians. The state considered them “colored,” thereby subjecting them to “Jim Crow” segregation laws. Reenergized by the 1957 Festival, the Rappahannock people accelerated efforts to preserve their identity. They held powwows, bought land, and built a cultural center. They demanded legal recognition from their state and country.By the time the Queen returned in 2007, the Commonwealth of Virginia had officially recognized the Rappahannock Tribe as one of the state’s original Native peoples. Eleven years later, in 2018, the Rappahannocks were finally recognized by the United States of America. “Recovering Lost Voices” highlights the words of Rappahannock people to argue the cultural knowledge Chief Nelson brought to Jamestown in 1957 inspired his people to demand the recognition they enjoy today.