The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee still casts a long shadow on Monument Avenue.
As protests erupted across the nation one year ago, the circle around the statue became a flashpoint between police and protesters calling for racial and social justice. Riot gear was worn. Tear gas burned. Protesters were arrested.
By summer, it became a safe space for a community that had never felt welcome in the Lee statue’s shadow.
As graffiti covered the pedestal where Lee sits on his horse nearly 75 feet overhead, community gathered.
In July, the city began removing the Confederate iconography along Monument Avenue. An injunction filed by a handful residents halted the dethroning of Lee.
In anticipation of his removal, the state fenced off the area so none could gather.
A year later, Lee remains. So does the community.
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Lawrence West is founder of BLM RVA, a community of activists who have occupied the grounds around the Lee statue daily since last summer.
As told to Times-Dispatch staff writer Ali Rockett:
You can’t mention Robert E. Lee without mentioning the occupiers.
We get less fuss about our presence. They’ve gotten used to our culture. They might still complain about the volume of the music, but not about the music itself.
One neighbor — a woman — told me, you live right over there. I don’t live on the median, but yeah, we’re part of the community now.
Even police have gained respect for us. They thought we were going away, but we haven’t. They’re still enforcing stupid laws. But we’re still here.
We’ve — no, Richmond is redefining what community looks like. It doesn’t look like what they thought. What is community? Is it people who pay to be a part of it? The police? The businesses? Or is it the people that just show up? This is community, too.
Last year, allies or comrades or whatever you call them, they came out in droves. Not everyone here now marched. Some people were there only for the protests. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone has their role.
We’ve moved beyond the protests. We started programs out of the church.
In the book I’m going to write later, there will be a chapter called fences. That is a fence to keep out community. The fence, the grass. We took such good care of the area. It’s like they let [the grass] grow to cover up what we’ve lost.
It’s been a fight — a long, 12-round fight. I can’t wait to see a scorecard. I don’t feel like I’ve been knocked out yet. I haven’t been. I’m still standing. We’re still standing.
There were distractions along the way. Black folks have been dying for a long time. I’m not saying the only thing that matters is Black lives. But if I’m focused on this one thing, I can’t get distracted every other minute.
We got a permit for Juneteenth. That’s huge. The city has some requirements, though.
It’s like a part of Richmond solidified.