Virginia Brochure Touts “Richmond Burning”: Emancipation as a Tourist Destination


From the “On to Richmond.com” website.

I had to do a double-take when I saw it. In big letters and bold colors, this Virginia travel brochure seems to loudly – and proudly – say that, yes, Richmond burned to advance the cause of freedom – and you ought to come visit and check it out.

The above image is from a travel brochure by the Richmond Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau in partnership with the Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission and Petersburg Area Regional Tourism. In 2009, they launched the Web site OnToRichmond.com, which is titled after the Union battle cry, “On to Richmond!” The website has Civil War and Emancipation itineraries for landmarks and other items of interest in the Richmond/Petersburg area.

Two things are of interest to me. First, this brochure is not just marketing the Civil War to tourists; it is marketing the Civil War and Emancipation to tourists. They are positioned as two searate and equally important themes which might draw a visitor’s interest.

Second, I am surprised at how aggressively the Emancipation narrative is used to attract visitors. To be sure, many Confederate sites and landmarks are identified in the brochure; in addition to places related to slavery and freedom, such as the Richmond Slave Trail, the Slavery Reconciliation Statue, and the Black History Museum Cultural Center of Virginia. But, a travel brochure that seems to glorify the burning of Richmond to achieve the goal of freedom might be seen as incendiary to some folks; so, too, might be the use of a Union battle cry to name a site about southern tourism. Although I take no offense at these myself. (Note that, the cities of Richmond and Petersburg have majority African American populations.)

But I do think that this approach to promoting the Sesquicentennial, which offers inclusion for the African Americans and many non-southerners, is positive and useful. There is more to the Civil War than just emancipation and freedom; and there’s more to emancipation and freedom than just the Civil War. While these things are clearly related, and interrelated, there are aspects of each that deserve their own consideration, commemoration, and reflection.

I wonder how successful this particular promotional campaign has been in attracting visitors to the area? I suspect that the pull of such materials will get stronger as the anniversary of the final Emancipation Proclamation approaches, and as the role of black soldiers (who were not widely used as combatants before 1863) comes into focus.