Like Berlin Wall, plinths
are testaments to history
When I was 19, I ended up in Munich as a nanny. While there, I was surprised by the muscularity of memory across the country. From Dachau to the Holocaust Memorial, the Topography of Terror to plaques on ordinary streets, the message was insistent if sometimes imperfect: This happened, right here, by us. Do not look away.
It’s for this reason that I’m glad the governor, mayor and intrepid citizens are removing the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. I hope this turns the tide in how we think about what lessons we pass on to children.
The Berlin Wall, though, is different: It had to come down, both symbolically and by necessity, but the pieces were saved, not destroyed. On them you see the joyous, small rebellions of anonymous East Germans intent on maintaining free expression through oppression. Preserved as public art, they remind you of the hope, not the horror.
This past week, the site of the Robert E. Lee statue reminded me of the Berlin Wall. I saw Black families taking multigenerational photos, white parents starting hard conversations about race, protesters passing one another water (and a couple of Virginia Commonwealth University students splitting a beer). The images passed around social media this week by local photographers and artists similarly are striking and powerful. While we must remove the statues, it would be a missed opportunity to power-wash and whitewash them. Contextualized appropriately, the bases — not the statues — serve as a powerful reminder of the battles we’ve won, and holds us accountable to doing better in the future. Richmond is winning the battle to reckon with its history. Preserving the bases as public art would be another step in fully acknowledging and articulating the pain of our past — and serve as a marker of the progress we will make in the future.
Consider these Virginians for honor on avenue
Will any new thing arise from the COVID-19 fallow time?
Here are some possibilities for statues to add to or replace Monument Avenue’s memorials:
- George Wythe, signer of Declaration of Independence and the first American law professor.
- Sally Hemings, mother and negotiator of freedom for her children by Thomas Jefferson.
- Alberta Guy Despot, Louisa County educator.
- Virginia Estelle Randolph and Jackson Davis, interracial team who fought for improvement of rural African American education in Henrico County, the South and Africa.
- Linwood Holton, who as governor enrolled his children in majority Black Richmond public schools.
Roger B. Pittard.
Removing the monuments won’t heal divisiveness
I am so sad to think of Monument Avenue without the monuments. I love Monument Avenue. When I see the statues, I think of them as losers for a lost cause, not winners gloating over having won the war. More than 600,000 soldiers died in the Civil War.
If you take away all the symbols of injustice in the past, where do you stop? Washington, Jefferson and so many of our historic figures were flawed, but we shouldn’t erase all they accomplished.
My ancestors fought in the Civil War. They were farmers, store owners and craftsmen from the Shenandoah Valley, not slave owners. War happens, men fight. Sometimes I wonder if they know why they are fighting. Look at Vietnam.
History is not always pretty. When we destroy it, nothing really changes. You can tear off the scab, but the wound still is there. Let’s deal with healing, not symbols.
Honor Vice Adm. Gravely’s groundbreaking career
Now that the statue of Jefferson Davis has been pulled down, it is time to ship it back to Kentucky where Davis was born. After all, he is not a native son of Virginia.
We should replace the Davis spot with a statue of Vice Adm. Samuel L. Gravely Jr., the first African American to serve aboard a fighting ship as an officer, the first to command a Navy ship, the first fleet commander and flag officer. A street named after this man is not enough to honor his legacy.
Vaughan F. Dize.
Multimedia sculpture could honor many people
The city of Richmond soon will decide what public art will take the places formerly occupied by monuments to the fallen Confederate generals on Monument Avenue. I suggest city officials consider erecting a kinetic, multimedia sculpture to occupy the space where the Robert E. Lee statue now stands.
This idea stems from the Black Lives Matter montage that recently has been projected on the Lee statue. The display has been at once timely, timeless and modern, if not futuristic. It is completely contemporary to be able to display large faces, images, slogans and events of the day in ephemeral light and shadow.
Imagine a new monument or architectural work designed to display kinetic projections on such a grand scale. It could be a geodesic dome or a spire or a screening structure that could be viewed from within or out. Imagine a large multimedia work of art as a tourist attraction. An array of projected images would alleviate some of the burden of deciding who would be honored with monuments by allowing the depictions of several heroes to be displayed in montages or as displays of particular heroes for days or months or years.
A public-private commission of artists, activists, educators and agencies could be impaneled to solicit and select the design. Maybe the same body could be charged with deciding who would be commemorated, in what ways and for how long, etc.
This contemporary public art installation would announce to the world that Richmond is a forward-leaning city. It could be a new modern monument that says the city that once was the capital of the Confederacy now is a beacon for those who want to create a grand new day and an innovative future.
J. Plunky Branch.
Black Dog in statue form
Has Richmond ever considered erecting a statue in memory of Black Dog? As many no doubt know, this near-mythical, dread-locked stray canine roamed the streets of Richmond’s West End neighborhood for nearly 10 years, eluding animal control workers the entire time. A woman once claimed he saved her from a mugging, such was his legend. Some Richmonders built doghouses and left food out for him, hoping to adopt and domesticate him (he never let humans get too close), but that is not how outlaws roll.
In the two years I lived in Richmond I saw him three or four times, having learned about him through the columns in the Richmond Times-Dispatch written by Mark Holmberg. Black Dog sometimes would come out of hiding and walk the perimeter of the park near Mary Munford Elementary School in the midafternoon, when the children were being let out of school. I looked for him every day for a year before first clapping eyes on him. When I did finally catch a glimpse, it was as if I had just seen Bigfoot. One afternoon, the toy poodle I had at the time got loose on a walk and, to my horror, approached Black Dog, as if to say, “Hey buddy, wanna play?” Black Dog declined the offer, but was cool about it. His longevity was such that some speculated it was “Son of Black Dog” they were seeing in those later years. Black Dog has been gone for more than a decade. It’s high time the city of Richmond commemorates his legend.
Lee, Columbus do not represent who we are today
Recent letters defending the characters of Christopher Columbus and Robert E. Lee try to make the case that we risk obliterating the understanding of our history by seeking to remove their statues from places of prominence. Unfortunately, the history most of us were taught in school is rife with intentional omissions and propaganda that sought, above all else, to paint these figures in a positive light, irrespective of actual events
Columbus wrote about the Arawak natives of Hispaniola (modern-day Haiti and Dominican Republic): “They would make fine servants. … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” And later, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending [back to Europe] all the slaves that can be sold.”
When natives failed to find large quantities of gold in the mountains, their hands were cut off and they were left to bleed to death. Within two years of Columbus’ arrival on the island, half of the 250,000 natives there had perished.
Lee refused to free his inherited slaves even though this was a stipulation of his father-in-law’s will. He finally was ordered by a court to do so. Wesley Norris, an escaped slave, recounted how after he and others escaped, they were recaptured and Lee had them whipped mercilessly and had brine poured over the wounds on their backs.
During Lee’s Pennsylvania campaign, his soldiers kidnapped free blacks and returned them to the South as property while torturing, enslaving and executing black Union soldiers at every opportunity.
According to historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor, when Lee was president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University), he idly sat by as students formed their own chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and repeatedly were accused of attempting to abduct and rape black schoolgirls.
Do monuments to Lee and Columbus really represent who we are today?
John Winn III.
European-style fountain could replace monument
Since the statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue is certain to be removed, it’s not too early to debate what to put in its place. Some of the most beautiful and evocative public squares in European cities are built around fountains, some with multiple pools and water jets and water cascades. Some incorporate statuary, perhaps with water themes, appropriate for a city blessed with the beautiful James River. These fountains can be equipped to allow synchronized light shows, all very spectacular and uncontroversial. The city should start soliciting designs.
to monuments’ intent
Why not just leave the statues on Monument Avenue as is? Is the graffiti not the counterbalance absorbing the statues original intent? In its current state, it might draw more tourists than ever. I recognize that residences of Monument Avenue have lost some majestic appeal but, as is, the message is delivered and the removal expense eliminated.
Rejecting symbols of hate helps all move forward
The Times-Dispatch recently published a letter from Jonathan Blank, Douglas Southall Freeman High School’s (DSF) class president from 1984 to 1988, re-evaluating a picture in the yearbook of him and his classmates cheering behind a Confederate flag.
I was born in 1986. In 2003, as a senior at DSF, I convinced my best friends to paint “DIXIE” across our chests at a basketball game. Our “school spirit” also is prominently featured in the yearbook.
Like Blank, I want these symbols removed.
I could expand on all the intellectual reasons why I have come to reject “heritage not hate,” but I don’t think facts alone are enough.
When you look at these old pictures, you see the flag, the mascot and the school name, but you also see a lot of smiles. There’s a lot of happiness. That, I fear, is what sustains these symbols across generations.
A long time ago, some truly racist people convinced the city of Richmond, and later a school district, to make the symbols of oppression and discrimination part of the public space. In doing that, they successfully embedded these symbols within the story of who we are, and they are so interwoven today with what it means to be a student at this particular high school or a resident of this particular city, that it feels like rejecting these symbols is rejecting these places that we love.
In reality, the friends, the memories and the good times always will be there. But by rejecting these symbols of hate and division once and for all, we don’t lose a part of our identity, we more fully express our inherent dignity and compassion as human beings.
Fountain would symbolize washing away of old ideas
Water is one of the world’s most efficient purifying elements. The system of biodiversity is a true representation of the changes happening in our beautiful river city. The accepting of the demands for the removal of symbols of our past only justify an inspiration for our future.
The changes wrought for Monument Avenue only increase the need for further beautification and support for our city. The circle where the Robert E. Lee monument now stands could be the future place of a fountain to express the further need for beautification. It also could represent the purification and dedication of a people to the diversity of a thriving city. No statues, no personal, racial or political statement, but a face of “Rumors of Peace,” to instill the obvious changes taking place as an example of a city moving forward in serenity and peace.
Remove statues of those who fought to keep slavery
A recent Letter to the Editor by George Gretes asks, “Where do we draw the line when removing statues?” It’s an excellent question, with an easy answer: Remove statues that honor people for the evil they do but leave in place statues that honor people for the good they do.
The states that seceded from the Union did so in order to preserve and expand slavery; Black slavery was the cornerstone of the Confederacy. Slavery indisputably is evil, as is any action taken to support slavery. The statues of Confederate soldiers on Monument Avenue were erected specifically for the purpose of honoring the Confederacy and the actions of the men who created and supported the Confederacy; therefore, we must remove those statues.
Gretes raises concerns about memorials such as the Washington Monument and the Jefferson Memorial, both of which honor imperfect men who did some things we find unacceptable. We did not erect the Washington Monument or the Jefferson Memorial for the purpose of honoring George Washington or Thomas Jefferson as slave owners; we honor them for creating and leading a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Therefore, those memorials need not be removed.
decries statue removal
I am sick over the urban disaster that Richmond has become. I am talking about Monument Avenue.
I was a 20-year-old Marine just back from a tour of duty during Korean War the first time I visited Richmond. My first drive in town was west on Monument Avenue, from the statue of Robert E. Lee out to the (then) West End. I thought that roadway — with its trees, beautiful houses and especially the statuary — to be the most impressive thoroughfare I had ever traveled. At that time, I knew next to nothing about the Civil War since I was born and reared in the Midwest. But it didn’t take me long to begin my education.
Within a year, I was living in Richmond on West Franklin Street and attending Richmond Professional Institute as a student. I loved Richmond at that time and continued to do so, even though I eventually moved elsewhere in the state.
To me, it is a sacrilege that those war monuments have been defaced and now are subject to removal. Richmond has become home to barbarians who haven’t sense enough to know that they cannot destroy history no matter how hard they try.
Take time to create
unified vision for avenue
As a strategic planner, I help individuals and organizations manage change. Positive change often happens, but outcomes too often miss their potential. Sometimes strategies are wrong; more often, good strategies succumb to poor execution. Worst, some neglect or fail to even acknowledge reasons for change until a crisis arises. Then, in an atmosphere characterized by anger, embarrassment and fear, they rush to address complex issues that really need careful reflection, broad consensus and long-term commitment.
Well-publicized, racially motivated outrages — in Ferguson, Mo., Charleston, S.C., and Charlottesville, to name but a few — increasingly have been sensitizing the public to a much longer chain of abuses that minorities have suffered in this country. In this new atmosphere, public acceptance of Confederate symbols and Jim Crow monuments at last was waning. Constructive momentum was building. The Monument Avenue Commission thoughtfully considered what to do about some of the most visible symbols of oppression in Richmond; this year, a new General Assembly cleared legal obstacles to the commission’s well-considered recommendations. Beneficial change finally was possible.
Now, amid national protests following still more barbarities, government officials here are reacting hastily, motivated by fear or political opportunism, to enact solutions that, while removing some symbols, are likely to disappoint on all fronts. What is needed is a unifying vision for Monument Avenue and Richmond, and there are many ideas worth considering. Thankfully, the process that the city must follow in determining the fate of the monuments requires some deliberation. The state may legally remove the Robert E. Lee statue; however, both Democratic and Republican administrations have had decades in which to do so. If Gov. Ralph Northam now is willing to pay for removal, fine, but the monument’s fate should await the city’s determination of what is best for the whole avenue and the city of which it is a visible part.
Kenneth G. Pankey Jr.
Honor poets, artists, authors on famous avenue
When we visited Paris some years ago, we noticed that there were many statues honoring artists, composers, poets and philosophers. Why couldn’t Richmond do something similar?
Once the Civil War figures have been moved to battlefields or museums, Monument Avenue will need monuments, and Virginia has been home to many creative and scholarly people. Everyone knows of Edgar Allan Poe, but what about poet Anne Spencer, artist Gari Melchers, author Ellen Glasgow, or author and educator Booker T. Washington? Perhaps these or other non-war-related figures could become a unifying and inspiring presence on Monument Avenue and elsewhere in the city.
An avenue of fountains could rival those in Rome
Charles F. Bryan Jr. recently wrote a very thoughtful commentary on the subject of the Confederate statues, but only suggests the statues of generals should go to Chancellorsville. That’s a decent proposal, but other battlefields might want one or two and might help with the cost of moving, as the commonwealth of Virginia should. Storage seems a waste of time and cost. They are fine statues, and many of us will be sad to see them leave Monument Avenue. The statues will remain a part of American history as will many others around the country. Perhaps museums will buy them.
A more challenging question is what will the city do with the places where the monuments stood. Bryan’s suggestion of fountains has fine merit. We might rival Rome or many others cities with great fountains. Surrounding counties might assist in this process, as most of us in Henrico County and other nearby counties do associate with and appreciate Richmond as our metro area.
Good luck and Godspeed with the process.
William A. Wallace.
Reader says no thanks
to vision of new South
What a play on words by Mary Caton Lingold’s opinion column. After a recent visit to the statue of J.E.B. Stuart, she expresses delight in “skateboarders taking up residence, spinning tricks off the foot of the horsebound fallen hero.”
Expressing her thoughts about the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), Lingold wrote that “Through their work, the UDC wielded white Southern femininity like a silent weapon.” These are devoted women who upheld their passion for those in their families who fought in the Civil War. Our nation’s symbolic statues are memorials of a time reflections of that period. They teach us in history.
Lingold does not see how hard others worked to place family heirlooms at the UDC, with their hopes that history would speak through items of a period of time. She praises those who dance, skateboard and do spinning tricks upon stately statues. They deface property that does not belong to them. It is criminal.
Statues now elicit
feelings of sorrow
The decision to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond have evoked strong memories of my childhood. I was born in 1949 at Stuart Circle Hospital, one block from the Lee statue on Monument Avenue. The statue that stood outside my hospital was of J.E.B. Stuart, another famous Civil War general. For the next 22 years, I rode or drove past these monuments hundreds, if not thousands, of times. It’s time for those statues to be removed. It seems like a simple decision, but perhaps I can give a little insight as to why it has taken so long.
Growing up in Richmond, I was indoctrinated into the Southern cause. We were taught in school to idolize those men whose statues stood on Monument Avenue. They were the leaders who defended us against the overbearing government infringing on states’ rights. There was a mystique about the “genteel” South, and it was defended with religious zeal.
I attended Douglas Southall Freeman High School, and our mascot was a Southern rebel. At halftime for football games, the band played “Dixie” as the mascot ran around the track with a giant Confederate flag.
Yes, we have statues to honor many people for great contributions to this country and the world, but I also would bet that all of them have something that we would find shameful if we knew all the details of their lives. I know some statues are inspiring, but the statues of the Civil War generals should only elicit feelings of sorrow or of shame. It’s time for them to go.