I remember as a kid watching a TV series called "The Virginian". The series was set in Wyoming, but the main part was played by a mysterious character whose name we never learnt and who was simply referred to as "The Virginian".
Virginia was not the first state to seccede from the Union, but it was the most important and Richmond, Virgina, became the capital of the Confederacy. In Richmond there is an interesting "Museum of the Confederacy" which carefully walks a line between supporting the cause of the South and distancing it from its support of slavery. Adjacent to the Museum is the Confederate White House, where the President of the Confederacy lived. My guide around the house was a retired Sergeant-Major of African descent and his chest puffed up as he talked proudly of Jefferson Davis and his family. There is also a branch of the Museum at Tredegar in Richmond, where the industrial might of the South was concentrated, and another at Appomattox, where the Southern cause was finally extinguished.
I stayed overnight in Appomattox and visited the old Court House complex where Robert E Lee surrendered to the Union forces led by Grant. It has been beautifully restored. The community fell into decline and became derelict but, because it was largly built of brick, enough still stood when the location became something of a shrine to history buffs.
The story of Appomattox Court House's decline is interesting. Its location had led to its original importance as a staging post, with two hostelries and a monthly court sitting there which gave rise to its name. Then the railroad came and it became a ghost town until resurrected as a National Historical Park. Nearby on the railway route, a small town called Appomattox now stands. It is a classic story of America, with communities springing up, flourishing and then declining - sometimes to the point of disappearing altogether. It happens to big cities like Detroit and Newark, and to smaller towns right across the USA. However, in the spirit of renewal that characterises so much in the country, new towns appear, cities prosper and the homes and commercial districts re-invent themselves.
Not far from Appomattox lies the largely forgettable town of Farmville. However Farmville has one overwhelming claim to fame. Even before Rosa Parks in Montgomery, Farmville was the setting for the first stand in the Civil Rights movement. The disadvantaged black kids in a local school went on strike, and started a chain of events that led to the famous Brown vs Board of Education court case that led to the end of segregation in schools in the USA. The school, Robert Russa Moton High School, still exists and is home to a moving exhibition about the events that culminated in the Civil Rights movement.
It is remarkable that, although the Civil War was nominally fought to free the slaves, over a century later racial discrimination was enshrined in the very fabric of so many of the old Confederate states. Whilst racism still exists in societies all around the world, in most developed societies it does not define the relationship between ethnicities - but in the USA it still does. Black American society is a thing apart from White American society in so many ways, and it is rare to see instances of social integration.
Next stop: North Carolina.