Posted by Brandon Jarvis
Mayor Levar M. Stoney today announced the formation of an ad hoc advisory group, the Monument Avenue Commission, to help the city redefine the false narrative of the Confederate statues that line Richmond’s grandest boulevard.
The commission will be tasked with soliciting public input and pooling its collective centuries of experience in history, art, government culture and community to make recommendations to the mayor’s office on how to best tell the real story of our monuments.
“It’s our time; it’s our responsibility to set the historical record straight on Monument Avenue’s confederate statuary,” Mayor Stoney said.
“Equal parts myth and deception, they were the ‘alternative facts’ of their time – a false narrative etched in stone and bronze more than 100 years ago – not only to lionize the architects and defenders of slavery – but to perpetuate the tyranny and terror of Jim Crow and reassert a new era of white supremacy.
“It is my belief that without telling the whole story, these monuments have become a default endorsement of that shameful period – one that does a disservice to the principles of racial equality, tolerance and unity we celebrate as values in One Richmond today.”
Mayor Stoney has also charged the commission with exploring the possibility of adding new monuments to Monument Avenue.
“I think we should consider what Monument Avenue would look like with a little more diversity,” the Mayor said.
“Right now, Arthur Ashe stands alone — and he is the only true champion on that street.”
To guide this process, the mayor has assembled a diverse and experienced team of experts – historians, artists, authors and community leaders.
The Mayor has appointed Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum, and Greg Kimball, Director of Education and Outreach for the Library of Virginia, to serve as Monument Avenue Commission co-chairs.
Click here for a list of other commission members and city staff assigned to assist the commission, which will also work with David Ruth, Superintendent of Central Virginia for the National Parks Service, who will advise regarding this National Landmark Historic District.
Two public meetings will be held over the next 90 days. Dates, times and locations will be announced next week. Residents will also be able to offer suggestions on the website, monumentavenuecommission.org.
When he ran for office, Mayor Stoney said the Confederate statues required context – that is, an explanation of what they actually are: who built them, why they were built and how they came to preside over the culture of this city. Today’s commission announcement is the first step in fulfilling that promise.
“The best way to change hearts is to educate minds,” he said.
The Mayor also suggested another strategy to balancing the historical ledger in Richmond.
“These are all important projects, and important symbols that help educate and build a bridge to understanding a more complete history,” the Mayor said.
“Let’s make our next monument a new school. A new community center. An alternative to public housing that restores dignity and pride of place,” he said.
“America’s history has been written and rewritten and our struggle with race in this country persists, not because monuments rise or fall, but because, fear makes people falter,” the Mayor continued.
“What lasts, however – the legacy that will endure – are the people we build, the minds we enlighten and nurture, and the hearts we open on both sides.
“If we can do that, then we will not just have a few new monuments. We will have thousands – living monuments to understanding, inclusiveness, equality and promise,” the Mayor added. “They are the ones who will know the difference between myth and fact, embrace just causes, not lost causes, and they will write the next chapter in the history of our city.
“Setting the record straight on Monument Avenue is one very important step on the road to One Richmond.”
Richmond is unique among cities in many respects in how it has handled its complex and conflicted Civil War and Civil Rights history.
It was the capital of the Confederacy and the home of the first African-American Governor in the United States – L. Douglas Wilder, in 1989.
A statue of segregationist state senator Harry Flood Byrd sits on Capitol square less than 100 years away from the Civil Rights memorial honoring Prince Edward County student Barbara Moton, whose brave protests for equal treatment in education helped bring about school desegregation in the commonwealth.
We have expanded the conversation and understanding of history and erected the statue, “Reconciliation,” acknowledging this city’s role in the Triangle Slave Trade in Shockoe Bottom.
A statue of Abraham Lincoln and his son Tadd stands next to the American Civil War Museum, the only museum dedicated to telling the story of the Civil War from multiple perspectives: Union and Confederate, enslaved and free African Americans, soldiers and civilians.
Next month the city will dedicate a new statue of Richmond’s own Maggie Walker on Broad Street, and next year, an emancipation statue will be commemorated on Brown’s Island.
It is also moving forward developing a plan to commemorate the Devil’s Half Acre and Negro Burial Ground along Shockoe Creek.
The statues on Monument Avenue were erected between 1890 and 1919, as the rights of African-Americans were being systematically removed.
In 1867, 105,832 African American men were registered to vote in Virginia, and between 1867 and 1895, nearly 100 black Virginians served in the two houses of the General Assembly or in the Constitutional Convention of 1867–1868.
But in 1876, two constitutional amendments were ratified in Virginia that instituted a poll tax, disfranchising men convicted of petty offences, and the number of registered voters plunged.
By the turn of the century, as Jim Crow took hold, there were no more black legislators in Virginia until 1968.