Heal Fund Grant as
Lorenzo Dickerson was born at the University of Virginia Hospital. “My family goes back to the early 1800s here,” he said. “All of my family’s here. They grew up here, went to high school here.”
And they have stories to tell—about the black community in Charlottesville and its history. They’re stories that Dickerson captures on film.
For instance, he once took a tour of the Paramount Theater in downtown Charlottesville. The guide made a passing reference to the fact that the 3rd Street entrance, in the days of segregation, had been for black people only. And by law they all sat together in the balcony.
Dickerson knew some of the story from his dad, who as a boy had seen his first film at the Paramount. He wanted to know more, though. That’s where his documentary film, 3rd Street: Best Seats in the House, began. A grant from the Heal Charlottesville Fund helped him complete the project.
During the filming, he brought elders of the community to the Paramount to tell their stories. For some it was the first time they had ever entered through the front door. They told of hearing racial slurs float up into the balcony and “accidentally” dropping some popcorn down, or maybe knocking a soda off the edge.
Never good to put the people you’re oppressing on top of you, Dickerson joked.
“Growing up, I heard about how my father would go there with my grandmother into that entrance,” Dickerson said. “And he saw his favorite movie there, which is his favorite to this day—Shane. He’s a big Western fan. But I never heard the details around why he went through that entrance. What was that story about? So in the process of the film we learn about structural and institutional racism, how these systems were created and then also how people interacted with them.”
The heart of this history still beats. “There are places here in Charlottesville that folks that grew up through segregation still don’t frequent today,” Dickerson said. “Because that was the norm during that time, they don’t feel comfortable going to these places.”
It’s important for black people to remember that history, Dickerson said, but also important that the whole community understands it as well.
“It helps us know where we’ve come from here locally,” he said, “but also where we need to go.”