Autobiography shows civil rights change in Richmond history

Photo by Julie Tripp.

Sarah King
Staff Writer

Students participated in the launch of an autobiography by VCU professor Edward Peeples, Ph.D., at the Singleton Center on Tuesday.

VCU Libraries presented the book, “Scalawag: A White Southerner’s Journey Through Segregation to Human Rights Activism.”

Peeples is an associate professor emeritus of preventive medicine and community health at VCU. The event featured a panel discussion with Peeples and his two contributing authors, Nancy MacLean, Ph.D. and James Hershman, Ph.D.

Peeples’ book takes readers through 50 years of his life, the history of segregated Richmond, and his fight for equality. Peeples, a Richmond native who now lives in the fan district, organized sit-ins, opposed racism in his Navy unit and pushed for better jobs, healthcare, and housing throughout the 1970s, all of which and more is addressed in his autobiography.

“It’s a complicated story, it’s a story of oppression and injustice hidden behind legality and gentility, but behind that it’s the real stories of people fighting long and treacherous struggles for equality,” Hershman said.

Peeples attended the Richmond Professional Institute, the forerunner to VCU on the Monroe Park Campus, where he began his fight for racial equality and activism in Richmond. He later advocated for the creation of African American studies courses at VCU in the 1970s as a professor.

“Ed’s bravery and ingenuity helped to make the university and city more inclusive and life-sustaining. I don’t believe we can understand how social change works until we appreciate the motivations and life’s stories of individuals like Ed,” MacLean said.

More than two hundred people were registered for the book’s launch at the Singleton center on Tuesday, and many of Peeples’ family and friends were in attendance for the book signing, reception, and discussion panel featuring himself, Hershman and MacLean.

“We don’t have anything that can convey to students what it was like to live under segregations, this generation doesn’t have the feel or the texture of that.  I read Ed’s vignettes and told him that they would be very useful for students to turn it into a larger work,” Hershman said.

Scalawag can be purchased for $30 at Barnes and Noble @ VCU.

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