This introductory chapter provides an overview of the town of Union located in central Virginia—a federally recognized Historic District and a “historically black community”—and examines the ways in which different groups of residents think and speak about community. It argues that in the United States of America, race, space, and history form the scaffolding on which people construct their understanding of community. As a construct, community could potentially envelop endless combinations of racial identities, historical sensibilities, and relations to the physical landscape. Despite of this the term is more frequently used to gloss an oversimplified perspective of race, history, and space. Such a perspective conceals much of the richness (and contention) of lived reality in the United States both today and in the past, and allows Americans to avoid an important conversation about the complex and unfolding nature of community.
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