Today, we are happy to bring you our conversation with Marvin T. Chiles, author of The Struggle for Change: Race and the Politics of Reconciliation in Modern Richmond:
What inspired you to write this book?
I was born and raised in Richmond. As I got older, I noticed that Richmond’s reputation for being irredeemably racist was out-of-step with my upbringing. Richmond’s issues with race are far from over, but the city has made tremendous progress towards correcting its past sins. My inspiration was one of correcting the record while calling for more progress on all fronts in the immediate future.
What did you learn and what are you hoping readers will learn from your book?
I learned that writing history is hard, and that writing good and accurate history is even harder. The past is a cruel lover, in that she does not make it easy to get to know her! More than that, I learned that the Richmond community was very open to helping me write this book. Their generosity was and willingness to help me really kept me going during the entire process, from research to writing. With that being said, I hope readers learn that America’s urban present is a complicated compilation of actions that do not always lead to intended outcomes. MOST people seek to do right even when they are doing wrong. That’s a religious belief of mine. Thus, Richmond is but a template to judge any person or collection of persons who is currently struggling with racial equality and equity.
What surprised you the most in the process of writing your book?
The sheer amount of efforts to improve city life after segregation. Although I knew that Richmond had liberal activists who worked to improve education, economy, housing, and city politics for all people, I never knew that it had so many who were all working at once, and in some cases against one another. I was also surprised how consistent failures never kept activists from trying to do the right thing. In all, I was surprised by the very human spirit Richmond as a whole possessed.
What’s your favorite anecdote from your book?
The controversy surrounding the Arthur Ashe monument. This fascinated me because leaders combined the city’s commitment to racial equality with commemorating a local black hero on Monument Avenue. This story, I think more than most, helps readers to understand the real mentality shift that Richmond underwent in just a few decades after the city practically fell apart over busing. This was the Richmond I was born into and grew up in.
In life, it's starting a family with my loving wife and making tenure here at ODU. I am also writing 2 separate books about my real passion: sports history. The first book, which is currently under contract, is on Jim Crow-era basketball and football in Virginia. The other book is on the life and work of Virginia basketball legend Marcellus ‘Boo’ Williams, Jr. I think that these projects will keep me busy for a while!