Haunting mystery solved in desegregation of Fredericksburg school

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The 1962 photograph is soul-stirring — a preteen Black student, standing alone, far apart from classmates outside the previously all-white Maury Middle School, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

The evocative image of the young man, on the day he desegregated the school was taken by a photographer with the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, and has been displayed for years on the public school system’s website, in the retelling of its once-segregated past.

robert christian desegregating maury school
A 1962 photo, originally posted in Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star, of Robert Christian, 12.

Yet, 60 years later? “Nobody ever knew who he was,” marveled Chris Williams, assistant director of the James Farmer Multicultural Center at the University of Mary Washington. “There was no name in the newspaper when that picture was taken — it just said ‘a young Negro boy.’”

Finally, Williams and other researchers have learned the identity of the person in the picture, who attended the school named for Matthew Fontaine Maury, a founder of modern oceanography before joining the Confederacy during the Civil War.

“The first student to desegregate it was a young man by the name of Robert Christian,” Williams said. “He was 12 years old.”

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Now, Williams and other researchers are set to unveil a Fredericksburg civil rights trail, entitled “Freedom, a Work in Progress,” on Thursday. The three-mile walking trail will guide participants through post-Civil War history in the city, including the site of the former school, which closed in 1980 and was converted into condominiums in 2007.

However, before the Maury school was built in 1920, the site was already rich in history.

“The Colored Cemetery at Potter’s Field was a place where Black citizens were buried, within the city of Fredericksburg,” Williams said. “But because the city needed a place to build a school, they dug up those bodies and moved them elsewhere.”

Interred bodies of enslaved people and free Black people were moved to Shiloh Baptist Cemetery.

Finally, the solitary young man tells his story

In September of 2022, co-researcher Victoria Matthews asked Williams’ cousin, Frank White, to see if he could discover the identity of the young man.

“Literally, within three hours, he found his sister,” who put Williams in touch with Christian, he said.

“At first he was hesitant,” Williams said. “Eventually he agreed to do an interview, which I must tell you was the most moving interview I did, in speaking with all these African American elders here in the City of Fredericksburg.”

While the historic photo depicted white schoolmates gawking at the school’s first Black student on the day he entered Maury School, Williams said Christian described the hostility he faced during the school year.

“It was a bit traumatic for him to recount those stories of what he went through during that time in 1962, being the only Black boy in the classroom, hearing the N-word, every day,” Williams said.

The unkindness ran deep.

“He was on his own, literally,” said Williams. “Nobody would play with him, nobody would sit with him at the lunch table — the teacher forced him to sit at the back of the classroom.”

Christian described the isolation he felt.

“His house was within a minute of the school, and he said he ran home every day after school,” Williams said. “He was just traumatized.”

Eventually, during their hourslong conversation, Williams sensed Christian felt the catharsis of finally detailing his painful experience: “He told me it was like talking to a family member.”

Christian’s desegregation story, at the site of the former Colored Cemetery at Potter’s Field is one of 22 stops on the civil right trail. It chronicles court rulings and protests from the Jim Crow era to the Black Lives Matter movement, stopping at churches, cemeteries, markers and monuments.

The unveiling event for “Freedom, a Work in Progress” will take place at UMW’s Jepson Alumni Executive Center in Fredericksburg on Thursday, Feb. 23, at 2 p.m.


US dollar to lose global dominance – Putin

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The Russian president says Moscow will cooperate with its partners to develop a safe system for international settlements

The US and other Western currencies will inevitably lose their leading position in global cross-border transactions, Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday.

Delivering his annual address to the Federal Assembly, the head of state said that Moscow would cooperate with its allies to build a secure system of international settlements that are not dependent on the dollar or the euro.

According to Putin, the current policies of Western states are causing the US dollar and the euro to lose their universality in international payments.

He explained that Russia’s former Western partners are forcing Moscow to cut settlements in dollars and other Western currencies.

In December, Putin stated that the share of ruble transactions in Russia’s foreign trade had doubled since the beginning of 2022, and now accounted for one third of the country’s settlements. He projected that the use of national currencies in place of the US dollar and euro in trade with Russia’s international partners would continue to grow.

The process of de-dollarizing the Russian economy started back in 2014, when Western nations introduced the initial sanctions against Moscow over Crimea’s reunification with Russia, which was formerly part of Ukraine. Sanctions imposed since the start of the military operation in Ukraine have sped up the process, particularly after over $300 billion in Russian foreign exchange reserves and other assets were frozen by the US and its allies.

Western sanctions on Russia failed – Putin

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The economy turned out to be much stronger than expected in the West, the president has said

The expected economic destabilization resulting from the “theft” of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves by the West did not materialize, President Vladimir Putin stated on Tuesday.

According to Putin, the economy has overcome all of the sanctions-related risks and is actually entering a new cycle of economic development.

“There are opportunities for a breakthrough in many areas,” he said, addressing the Federal Assembly in his key annual program speech.

Putin noted that Russia’s GDP in 2022 decreased by just 2.1%, according to the latest data, despite Western projections of a decline of up to 20%.

The government poured in more than 1 trillion rubles (over $13 billion) to support the economy amid the Western sanctions, he said.

“The sanctions have provoked price increases and other problems in the West itself, but they are trying to blame Russia for everything,” Putin stated.

The president called on the government to bring the economy to new frontiers of development.

Germany to double down on renewable energy – official

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Berlin is aiming to reach its climate goals by 2030, according to the Economy Ministry

The German government will do most of the work this year to prepare its power market for greater reliance on renewable supplies by the end of the decade, Economy Minister Robert Habeck announced on Monday.

Habeck aims to overhaul the 550-terawatt hours a year (TWh) market amid rising demand as the EU’s largest economy moves away from fossil fuels under its climate commitments.

“We will do most of the necessary work in 2023,” the minister told a consultation meeting on power market reform, noting that the goal is to generate 80% of electricity from wind and the sun by 2030.

According to the minister, the government will prepare tenders for gas-fired power capacity to back up green power as nuclear and coal production is phased out. A strategy for the tenders will be ready this quarter, Habeck said, pointing out that gas will later be replaced with lower-carbon alternatives such as hydrogen.

Germany’s plan could set it apart from some EU countries that are holding on to more stable sources of power, Habeck noted.

“Creating alternative baseload will be a specific challenge. In a way, it will be like teaching an elephant how to dance,” he explained.

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Ammunition for a self-propelled howitzer during a military exercise in Ostenholz, Germany, October 2022.
Germany considers diverting ‘green’ subsidies to arms production – Bloomberg

After taking power in December 2021, Olaf Scholz’s coalition government presented an ambitious program foreseeing a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy.

However, those plans were effectively put on hold after gas prices skyrocketed due in part to Western sanctions imposed on Moscow. Issues with gas pipeline maintenance and then the sabotage of the Nord Stream network further exacerbated tight Russian supplies.

In a bid to ensure energy security, the authorities in Berlin ordered in September that idled brown coal mines could be resurrected. The phasing out of coal-fired power plants was also postponed until March 2024.