Richmond Creates “Monument Avenue Commission”

Update: Mayor Stoney’s full remarks can be found here.

This is an interesting development. Today the mayor of Richmond announced the creation of the Monument Avenue Commission, which will examine ways to add historical context to its Confederate monuments. A few weeks ago I suggested that Richmond will likely not follow other cities like New Orleans and this announcement today suggests that I may have been right.

The commission includes some very bright people, who understand the history and memory of the Civil War in Richmond and care deeply about their city.

  • Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum;
  • Gregg Kimball, director of education and outreach for the Library of Virginia;
  • Andreas Addison, Richmond city councilman;
  • Ed Ayers, author of “The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction” and “In the Presence of Mine Enemies: The Civil War in the Heart of America”
  • Stacy Burrs, member of the Black History Museum’s board of directors;
  • Sarah Driggs, member of the Richmond Public Art Commission;
  • Kim Gray, city councilwoman;
  • Julian Hayter, historian and assistant professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond;
  • Lauranett Lee, professor at the University of Richmond;
  • Coleen A. Butler Rodriguez, member of the Board of Advisors for Historic Richmond;
  • Jon Baliles, senior policy advisor for the city of Richmond;
  • Anedra Bourne, city tourism director; and
  • Bobby Vincent, director of Richmond’s Department of Public works.

It is not clear what the impetus was behind the formation of this commission, but I suspect that the situation in New Orleans and Charlottesville had something to do with it. This is certainly a way for the city to get ahead of any public outcry that may be forthcoming.

Certainly the mayor of Richmond has made his view of Monument Avenue clear:

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.

Will historical markers or some other form of context be a sufficient response to such concerns? I look forward to following the work of the commission.

14 comments… add one
  • Richard Nero Jun 22, 2017

    Cool

  • woodrowfan Jun 22, 2017

    OMG. The Virginia legislature will have a fit!

  • hankc9174 Jun 23, 2017

    Putting monuments in ‘context’ is not a viable solution. The mere mass of the memorials overwhelms any contextualization.

    As stated here, and elsewhere, replace signage and rename parks. The monuments become anonymous art pieces.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 23, 2017

      I have suggested the limitations of historical markers, but we should be willing to see how the process unfolds. This is an excellent commission made up of some very talented and creative people.

  • hankc9174 Jun 23, 2017

    as a subtext, slavery, Jim Crow and segregation should be dis-connected from the monument issue.

    The monuments raison d’etre is that these men rebelled *against* the united states.

    that’s enough to re-examine them and take action.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 23, 2017

      They are all central to understanding Monument Avenue.

  • Connie Chastain Jun 23, 2017

    They are Confederate statues in the capitol of the Confederacy. How much more flippin’ context do you need? The mayor has already signaled his hatred of these monuments. His commission members have a track record of hostility toward Confederate history and heritage. Don’t expect objectivity and impartiality from these people. The purpose of the “context” to be added will be to smear, slander, lie about and demonize Confederates in partiacular, and to incite hatred for white Southerners, past and present.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 23, 2017

      Poor Connie. You’ve been pushing this argument for years and it has accomplished nothing. You are truly a Lost Cause. 🙂

    • hankc9174 Jun 23, 2017

      the fact that they rebelled against the united states is reason enough to take action.

  • David Tatum Jr Jun 23, 2017

    If the mayor’s statement about Felon / Jim Crow voting laws is any indication of the historical context we can expect LORD HELP US !

    http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2016/jun/06/levar-stoney/levar-stoney-wrongly-traces-virginia-felon-voting-/

    • Kevin Levin Jun 23, 2017

      That is part of the relevant historical context. In fact, it is basic knowledge. The vast majority of Confederate monuments were erected during the Jim Crow era. Black Americans were barred from voting and as a result the public discussions about how history would be commemorated in public spaces. That is no longer the case. Get over it.

      • Dudley Bokoski Jun 23, 2017

        To your mind, in these discussions does it matter when the monuments were erected or for what purpose?

        • Kevin Levin Jun 24, 2017

          Of course.

          • Dudley Bokoski Jun 24, 2017

            I do think context matters, but I think for most people it is a binary choice.

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