VCU, UR libraries publish free edition of ‘The Politics of Annexation’

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The libraries of Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Richmond are working together to publish a new open-access edition of “The Politics of Annexation: Oligarchic Power in a Southern City.”

The long-out-of-print 1982 book by two then-VCU faculty members analyzed the politics involved with the city of Richmond’s annexation of 23 square miles and 47,000 residents of Chesterfield County in 1970.

“The Politics of Annexation” examines the process of American cities using annexation of suburban areas as a tool to increase their tax base and generate new revenue. It found that the annexation by Richmond of part of Chesterfield County was racially motivated, and a way to dilute the black vote. The authors examine the details behind the annexation as well as its aftermath in subsequent litigation, leading to the U.S. Supreme Court. They also discuss annexation cases in Houston and San Antonio, drawing parallels with Richmond regarding racially based annexation efforts.

The book was authored by John V. Moeser, Ph.D., professor emeritus of urban studies and planning at VCU and a former senior fellow at the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond, and Rutledge M. Dennis, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at George Mason University and the first coordinator of African American Studies at VCU.

“What my co-author and I did not anticipate when the book was first released in the early 1980s was the high level of interest that it generated both in the academic world and the general public,” Moeser said. “I think what contributed to the book’s popularity was that the history, politics and raw power involved in reducing the black proportion of Virginia’s capital city had all of the ingredients of a novel. Events that were so outlandish, crude and insulting to African Americans were revealed to the public for the first time.”

The new edition of “The Politics of Annexation” provides a “unique opportunity for us to reflect upon and gain new insights into Richmond’s racial political history to understand how the vestiges of slavery and Jim Crow kept the city immersed in a legacy of racial oppression and social injustice,” Dennis said.

“Knowing that history, however, offers new hope for Richmond’s future, as contemporary blacks and whites grapple with existing political, economic, educational, cultural and health challenges that must be confronted and dealt with,” he said. “Hopefully, this new edition will inspire new and adventurous social and moral entrepreneurs to forge new links that will assist in creating a new inclusive and dynamic urban community.”

The new edition — which publishes today and can be downloaded for free — is a newly formatted version of the original 1982 text. It has been edited only for non-substantive style changes and corrections, and features a new introduction by Moeser and Dennis, as well as a new index and a preface by historian Julian Maxwell Hayter, Ph.D., associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond. Hayter writes that “The Politics of Annexation” was “not merely ahead of its time; it has stood the test of time.”

“It cannot be understated that this book was and is only nominally about the annexation of Chesterfield County,” writes Hayter, author of “The Dream is Lost: Voting Rights and the Politics of Race in Richmond, Virginia.” “It does not merely depict the small handful of well-heeled whites that dominated Virginia politics before and immediately after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA). It also explains how African Americans activated the machinery of intensely organized, yet increasingly segregated, communities to contend with these oligarchs. In analyzing how and why the annexation of Chesterfield County occurred, this work not only enriched our understanding of municipal- and state-level politics during the end of the Jim Crow era; it also emphasized the age-old dialectic between vested white interests and the black freedom struggle.”

The book is available for download through VCU Libraries’ Scholars Compass publishing platform for the intellectual output of VCU’s academic, research and administrative communities. A limited number of print copies will be available for sale as well.

The project came about thanks to a collaboration between the libraries of VCU and the University of Richmond.

Lucretia McCulley, head of scholarly communications at UR’s Boatwright Memorial Library, helped secure the reversion of the book’s copyright from its original publisher back to the authors, clearing the way for VCU Libraries to pursue this new version.

VCU Libraries produced the new edition, commissioning a new cover by artist Jeff Bland, the new text, and all of the typesetting services. VCU Libraries worked closely with the authors, who agreed to publish with an open-access license that allows for the widest possible readership, and to contribute the new introduction, titled “Fifty Years Later,” reflecting on their work, Richmond and society.

“In conversations with McCulley, we noted that the book remains extremely popular on both campuses to the point of multiple copies going missing,” said Sam Byrd, scholarly publishing librarian for VCU Libraries. “Both authors are still active in the community, and it was through discussion with them that McCulley took the next step to pursue the copyright from the original publisher. More to the point, the issues the book raises are still very much with us today, as the authors make clear in their new introduction and preface.”

McCulley said the book continues to be read and frequently cited by scholars and students.

“I think this book continues to be impactful when studying the history of the city of Richmond or the topic of annexation,” she said. “In addition, the annexation events of 1970 still affect politics in Richmond today. Due to its local importance, I think it is wonderful that it will be reissued as a digital edition. Scholars and the general public will have access to it all over the world, freely accessible through open access.”

Byrd added that VCU Libraries is thrilled to be able to make “The Politics of Annexation” more widely available to the Richmond community and beyond.

“It’s very much a part of the libraries’ mission to share and disseminate scholarship from the VCU community,” he said.

Moeser said the new edition of the book is particularly noteworthy because “some of the most dedicated and accomplished librarians at the University of Richmond and Virginia Commonwealth University joined hands to undertake this project.”

“Having taught at both schools, I was particularly grateful for this alliance,” he said. “This is the first time that a collaboration of this nature has occurred between the two libraries.”

Looking back to the era depicted in “The Politics of Annexation,” Moeser said, much has changed in the Richmond area but many of the same issues remain. The region has grown in population and economic prowess. It is more diverse and open. Poverty is more widespread, given gentrification of Richmond’s historic neighborhoods and the higher cost of housing. Low-income renters have had to move, often to the less costly, deteriorated housing abundant in the older suburbs just across the city boundary.

“Perhaps the single major difference between then and now is that Richmond today can no longer annex suburban land. It’s landlocked. This decision by the state legislature is a consequence of the 1970 annexation. White suburbs no longer want to be pawns of the city’s old guard. But the old guard is now passing off the scene though their descendants are still ensconced on their estates in West End Richmond or their new mansions on plantation-size tracts of lands,” he said.

“Race and poverty, however, are still joined at the hip. The big difference today, however, is that race and poverty are no longer African American and white, but international and multilingual,” he said. “One reality, however, has never changed. It’s ancient and immutable. Wealth and power remain joined at the hip while poverty and impotence seem fixed forever.”

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