In the weeks after the chaos that enveloped Charlottesville, Virginia, after the clashing of white supremacists, members of the Ku Klux Klan, and what the drive-by media calls the “alt-right” against counter protesters and Anti-fa, states, municipalities, and politicians have been calling for the removal of historic monuments and statues that romanticize the Confederate-Era. Just an hour drive east is Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the Confederate State of America and home to Monument Avenue, one of the city’s most venerated tourist attractions. As one walks or drives along the miles of cobblestone that scythes from the far West End into downtown, they can see the public is shadowed by the immortalized leviathans of the Old South that are General Robert E. Lee, General Stonewall Jackson, General J.E.B. Stuart, Confederate president Jefferson Davis and others.
Now, however, the tree-lined grassy mall surrounded by architecturally significant houses is threatened by the social revolution of political correctness and what Richmond’s Mayor Levar Stoney calls, ” [a] default endorsement of a shameful period in our national and city history that do not reflect the values of inclusiveness, equality and diversity we celebrate in today’s Richmond,” according to an article by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The Monument Avenue Commission, created by Mayor Stoney, is now being lobbied to agree to take down the statues, which, according to some, remind us of a dark past in our nation’s history. Moreover, after the event in Charlottesville, social justice warriors are also calling for the removal of the statues dedicated to Thomas Jefferson and George Washington due to the fact that the were slave-holding white men of power. I fear if we dismantle the representations of the past, we will not be able to learn from it and are then doomed to repeat it.
I agree with Mayor Stoney. The South’s age of slavery was a shameful period in American history. However, where does this all end? What exactly does removing the monuments do? Taking down these statues will not disband the KKK, or rid the country of white supremacists. Taking down the statues will not create some sort of social and cultural healing of minority groups. I believe the moments remind us of what happened during the atrocities that led the the American Civil War and we are forced to view it from the present and learn from the evolution of society.
In the 1990s, the Arthur Ashe monument was placed on the avenue and was met with great controversy. African-American leaders in the region wanted a sign of inclusion on the famed route. However, others thought Monument Avenue should be a place only where leaders of the Confederacy should be housed. This is argument needs to be solved with American ingenuity. Something needs to happen to Richmond’s Monument Avenue. However, that is not taking down the statues, it is not placing historical correct placards on the current monuments that Mayor Stoney claims, “will tell the real story.”
Richmond needs to build monuments, big, bold, and proud monuments to the civil rights leaders who have shaped the city, the commonwealth, and the nation since the antebellum age. Lieutenant Governor and current Democratic candidate for governor Ralph Northam says the current statues should be removed and placed in a museum. Though, Monument Avenue is a museum – a museum that is not yet complete.
Where are the statues, of Rosa Parks, W.E.B. DuBois, George Washington Carver, Martin Luther King Jr., Booker T. Washington, Harriet Tubman, and Barbara Johns? Building monuments of these great Americans on the avenue will show the country and indeed the world where this great city was in the past, is now, and where it is going in the future. The Monument Avenue Commission needs to talking about the solution that will continue the story the tree-lined mall tells – a story of growth, a story of evolution, a story of learning from the past to become a better, brighter America.
In the end, I say let Monument Avenue not be an ode to the past for which we may have quarrel, but let it be the physical representation of where we have come from it. The evolution of our city should be displayed from inception to present so that passersby can see our progression and transformation.
Opinion by Alex Lemieux