Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Witness to a Century

Academic journal article The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography

Witness to a Century

Article excerpt

Built in 1944-45, Fairlington in Arlington County was a prototypical suburb of the middle twentieth century. Here, colonial revival homes spring up in what was formerly a farm field. Rural life giving way to urban/suburban was a major theme in twentieth-century Virginia. (National Archives, 80-G-30825)

Let's imagine we could view the twentieth century on a videotape. What would we see? Life in Virginia in 1900 was dominated by the rhythms of the land-planting and harvest, sunup and sundown-as it had been for hundreds of years. Most people worked on farms, and many were born and lived their entire lives within a tight geographical radius. Virginians were also confined by the visible and unseen barriers of Jim Crow, segregating virtually every aspect of society. Now, let's fast forward through the next one hundred years. Images of two world wars and a great depression would flicker by, generally replacing poverty with relative affluence. The placards and demonstrations of the civil rights movement would make their appearance on the screen as well, marking a profound transformation in social relations. Farmland would be plowed under and give way to growing cities and sprawling suburbs. Technological innovation would also be a constant theme, changing the way Virginians communicated with each other and experienced the world: telephone, radio, television, Internet. When the tape ends in the year 2000, we would see a Virginia fundamentally altered: few in the state making their living from agriculture, African Americans fully involved in the political process, and the commonwealth home to a dizzying array of cultures and ethnicities. …

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