About the same time that Governor Bob McDonnell of Virginia was apologizing for neglecting to mention slavery in his Confederate History Month proclamation, the Virgina Museum of Fine Arts announced a new acquisition: Street Corner by Phillip Evergood. The painting is evidence that not everyone in Virginia is an atavist.
The way cultures remember their history stamps their character. The war still festers in the souls of those southerners who truculently fly the Stars and Bars. Urban Yankees, however, pay relatively little attention to the Civil War. Indeed, many are descended from immigrants who arrived some fifty years afterwards. Even African Americans find more to relish in the Civil Rights Movement than in the war against slavery. If there is a watershed moment for northerners, it may well be the Depression of the 1930's, when America discovered it could not survive as a great nation without a social conscience.
But back to the painting. Clearly it is from the Depression. It startles us with its raucous jumble of city dwellers. There is energy here, but not momentum. The people move in various directions, while a black man stands still, his back to all. Newspapers are strewn about, one with "War" in its headline. Two workers occupy the center space; their size and strength is assuring. A baby takes in the assembly with delight. We are on the cusp. Events are about to unfold that will galvanize this group. Evergood, who came from a well-to-do family, sensed the latent energy of the nation's streets. His painting demonstrates the era's yearning for a more perfect Union.