The New Face of Richmond’s Monument Avenue

It is impossible to keep up with the news coming out of Richmond. I am still having difficulty wrapping my head around the fact that at some point in the near future the Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue will be removed.

Until that time I suspect that demonstrators will continue to appropriate the Lee Circle to advance their own agenda. I didn’t anticipate that this would happen. In fact, it is safe to say that more African Americans have set foot on the Lee Circle in the past week than have done so over the past 130 Years.

Speeches can be heard throughout the day. I have even seen photographs of impromptu graduation ceremonies taking place at the base of the Lee Monument, but the most impressive sight has been the projection of George Floyd’s face, along with the message, “Black Lives Matter” and “No Justice, No Peace” onto the monument itself.

Perhaps 2020 will be remembered as the year the Lost Cause truly lost.

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my latest book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Order your copy today.

58 comments… add one
  • Maryann Germaine Jun 12, 2020 @ 13:24

    Thank you for your Atlantic article specifically linking these monuments to the city’s exclusionary marketing of properties along Monument Avenue. While I have thought for years that the continued presence of Confederate monuments is incredibly hurtful, knowing now that they were actually also used to sell homes to whites is just….no words.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 12, 2020 @ 14:04

      Thanks, Maryann. Glad to hear that it was helpful.

      • New England Jon Jun 12, 2020 @ 14:44

        I think that I first heard of Monument Avenue when I had a long commute and a working CD player 8 years ago and listened to Andrew Ferguson’s Land of Lincoln. If memory serves, Ferguson’s trip to Richmond coincided with when the Ashe statue was unveiled

      • Rathherdrive Jun 12, 2020 @ 20:56

        Kevin, can you post a link to that Atlantic article about marketing real estate

  • London John Jun 12, 2020 @ 3:47

    This blog seems to me to be a fairly suitable place to clarify what statues mean. The case of the Confederate statues is clear: they were put up to celebrate the re-establishment of White Supremacy, and their removal signifies that its time is up. I believe the impact of this message would be much reduced if statues of Union heroes were taken down: but some of them were war criminals of the Indian Wars. I think the answer is that the statues commemorate only their Civil War victories and not their whole military careers; but this needs to be made explicit, IMO.
    Here in London we have the statue of Churchill in Parliament Square ( which he now shares with Gandhi, among others). One view is that this commemorates only Churchill’s wartime leadership, and by extension the British war effort. But as well as holding some very unpleasant views, which IMO are irrelevant – only actions count – Churchill as Prime Minister was very much responsible for the Bengal Famine which killed between 3 and 6 million Indians in 1942-3. During his second premiership the uprising in Kenya was put down with great brutality. It is still possible to claim that regardless of what else he did Churchill was one of the chief Allied leaders of WWII and definitely deserves a statue, which is fair enough: so where is our statue of Stalin?

  • msb Jun 11, 2020 @ 0:33

    My God, the Monument Ave statue of Jefferson Davis is down. Amazing how ephemeral things cast in bronze and carved in stone can be, and how fast a collapse can happen after sustained pressure.

    • Jimmy Dick Jun 11, 2020 @ 8:47

      This is all part of a backlash caused when the oppressors refuse to allow change for a long period of time, and when they finally lose the power to prevent change, the public lashes out against the oppressors and the things they refused to change. Sometimes the backlash is violent, but then the oppressors used violence in many historical cases to prevent the change. Therefore, for the oppressors to complain about violence directed towards them and their symbology is to be hypocritical.

      The backlash can get out of hand and rage directed against other things which are not part of the oppressor’s symbology such as the tagging of the 54th monument. This backlash could have easily been prevented, but that is not the nature of the oppressors. They used their power to prevent change. Now, they are going to have to accept the consequences for their oppression. Obviously, they refuse to do so when confronted with objective truths which prove them to be wrong.

      • hank clark Jun 11, 2020 @ 14:33

        i suggest its a reply to the backlash to the historical gains in civil rights.

        reconstruction lasted 12 years – its backlash lasted 100.

        civil rights, for many, again took off in the 50s and 60s: nixon and reagan lead the backlash for 20 years to erode some of those gains.

        obama was elected and served for 8 years. backlash took the form of the tea party and the current chief executive.

        today’s events are in reply to this latest backlash.

        note that the backlashes lead to an erosion of societal, political and civil advances.

        luckily the reply time is lessening.

  • Bob Lee Jun 9, 2020 @ 19:40

    I asked a simple question on Twitter and you blocked me without answering. Are no historians taking a position on the burning of the UDC, the destruction of historical items (the flag that draped the coffin of Stonewall Jackson, among other things), the trashing of the library. Karen Cox has not made any statement about it that I know of, which I find odd to say the least. Isn’t it worth making a point about it before such vandalism is repeated due to silent acquiescence?

    (my posting name is actually my name, not a moniker)

    • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2020 @ 0:56

      I don’t block people on twitter for asking a “simple question.” I asked just that question on twitter and got a wide range of responses.

  • Brad Jun 9, 2020 @ 14:16

    Kevin, I saw a photo today of the Lincoln statue that was defaced in England. Of all people to deface. We all don’t mind when it’s a confederate icon but now that the show is on the other foot… Any interest in doing a column on that?

    • Kevin Levin Jun 9, 2020 @ 16:33

      Not really. It will likely get cleaned.

      Of all people to deface. We all don’t mind when it’s a confederate icon but now that the show is on the other foot…

      Not everyone has the same view of Lincoln. Right now monuments are targets. It’s going to continue for the foreseeable future.

      • Brad Jun 9, 2020 @ 20:01

        There are targets and then there are targets. Defacing Lincoln makes little sense as he’s in a different class than the Confederates. It smacks of striking at anything associated with the established order, whether good or not. Moreover, I doubt few of those people knew that much about Lincoln.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2020 @ 0:57

          Moreover, I doubt few of those people knew that much about Lincoln.

          I suspect that this is not simply about history for many demonstrators.

          • Brad Jun 10, 2020 @ 6:29

            Yes and no. The Rhodes statue at Oxford appears to be next.

            • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2020 @ 6:50

              It has been a target for many for quite some time.

  • London John Jun 8, 2020 @ 11:04

    Just as a matter of interest, is there any prominent statue in Richmond to General Winfield Scott, a Virginian soldier who made his name fighting against foreign enemies rather than against the Unite States?

    • Kevin Levin Jun 8, 2020 @ 11:20

      No.

  • Andersonh1 Jun 8, 2020 @ 7:56

    I have enjoyed seeing the memorial to Lincoln vandalized in London, and the monument to the 54th Massachussetts vandalized again in Boston. Maybe if this “reclaiming of public spaces” moves more widely beyond Confederate monuments, people will figure out that letting mobs vandalize public property and public art does in fact have consequences beyond “objectionable” monuments. Watching politicians grovel to the mob or use the mob as a pretext to do what they wanted to do anyway demonstrates the poor level of leadership parts of this country are suffering with right now. Encouraging lawless behavior only leads to more lawless behavior, so be careful what you’re cheering on here.

    Meantime here in South Carolina, a church cemetery in Powdersville was vandalized with Black Lives Matter graffiti, and many headstones were broken. There’s no connection to George Floyd any more than the Lee monument had a connection to George Floyd, but license to destroy has been sanctioned, so what else can we expect?

    • Msb Jun 9, 2020 @ 11:42

      Are you seriously contending that nobody ever painted graffiti on statues (or anything else) before 4 police officers murdered George Floyd? Boy, will you be surprised to learn that Americans destroyed a statue of George III over 200 years ago.

      • Andersonh1 Jun 10, 2020 @ 5:01

        There is a petition to take down a statue of Custer now. Get ready for a landscape where no historical figure passes the purity test, coming soon!

        https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/local/2020/06/09/petition-started-to-remove-monroe-statue-of-general-custer/

        • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2020 @ 5:05

          There are literally hundreds of petitions floating around calling for the removal/relocation of statues and monuments. It’s part of what it means to live in a democracy.

          • Pedro Jun 10, 2020 @ 9:51

            Unfortunately, many of the statues and monuments being taken down are done so under the mob hand and cover of darkness. Not all are related to democratic means.

            • Kevin Levin Jun 10, 2020 @ 10:55

              In some of these places state law prevents local communities from even considering the question of removal.

        • Msb Jun 10, 2020 @ 10:09

          Didn’t answer my question. Why?

          • Andersonh1 Jun 11, 2020 @ 11:14

            Msb, I’m well aware that King George’s statue was torn down. Are we in a revolution now just as they were then? It certainly looks like it. What we are seeing now is magnitudes larger than the typical simple graffiti tagging we’ve seen from time to time in the past. You imply this is nothing new, when it so clearly is.

            • Msb Jun 11, 2020 @ 21:57

              Still didn’t answer my question. Hint: it was the first sentence, not the second.

  • paineite Jun 7, 2020 @ 5:29

    Lee monument? Good riddance to bad rubbish !! Best news of the week, hands down.

  • Ian Flores Jun 6, 2020 @ 22:01

    “Perhaps 2020 will be remembered as the year the Lost Cause truly lost.”
    No, while Virginia rejecting the confederacy is a powerful blow to the lost cause I don’t think it will truly be over until Calhoun’s home state, the state where this all started turns it’s back on it as well.

  • CH Jones Jun 6, 2020 @ 13:14

    If the legal challenges succeed and the monument stays up, I agree 100%, it should remain with all the new additions. This is the kind of contextualization that all these monuments are lacking.

  • Destroythemall Jun 6, 2020 @ 10:38

    The USA is coming to an end…middle class workers are going to pay the price. Soon to be very wealthy or very poor.

    • Neil Hamilton Jun 7, 2020 @ 17:28

      The USA is going to be around for a long time because my grandchildren and the rest of the people of the United States will ensure it’s survival and work to keep it’s promises made by the Founders for centuries to come.

  • James Harrigan Jun 6, 2020 @ 6:49

    Pretty stunning and thrilling turn of events in Richmond. With Lee finally heading out of town, it’s time to think about what to replace him with. My vote is a statue depicting the former slaves from VA and NC who served in the 36th Regiment, United States Colored Troops, who fought to liberate Richmond in April 1865 https://www.amazon.com/Infantry-United-States-Colored-Troops/dp/0786468785

    • Ratherdrive Jun 6, 2020 @ 21:06

      Replacing that statue of a traitor with a new statue depicting that 36th Regiment, USCT is a superb idea. Highly appropriate.

  • Frank "Skip" Shaffer Jun 5, 2020 @ 16:31

    A statue of Mahatma Gandhi was just vandalized by far left extremists outside the Indian Embassy in Washington DC. The word “racist”was written on the statue’s base. I think he rode with Stonewall Jackson or maybe it was Reggie Jackson. Bad man. burn him to the ground.

    • Andy Hall Jun 6, 2020 @ 7:52

      There’s a lot of random dumbness going on right now. That doesn’t change the fundamental (and very long-standing) objection to Confederate monuments.

    • Tewari_Crescent Jul 3, 2020 @ 1:01

      You should do some research on Ghandi and his thoughts on Africans before you speak on him in such a glowing light. In addition, he also slept fully declothed in same bed as his teen grand niece when she was in her teens. I personally despise the bwoy.

  • 65th NY Guy Jun 5, 2020 @ 16:02

    “Perhaps 2020 will be remembered as the year the Lost Cause truly lost.” Very powerful line. Having read your book only a few months ago and referenced it in my APUSH classes and my class on America’s Civil War, it is incredible to see how fast things are moving. Voices until now unheard, or at least underrepresented, are finally being heard. –Chris Barry

  • David R McCallister Jun 5, 2020 @ 15:31

    Demonstrators? Criminals.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2020 @ 15:33

      You are certainly entitled to your point-of-view.

    • RatherDrive Jun 5, 2020 @ 19:08

      Confederate hero? Abject traitor to the USA.

    • Msb Jun 6, 2020 @ 9:19

      Demonstrators. Americans, exercising their 1st amendment rights, realizing the founders’ dream in ways they could not imagine. Inspiring.

    • Joshism Jun 8, 2020 @ 8:51

      The people who graffiti monuments are criminals.

      People who standing on or around the monuments during a protest, without damaging or defacing the monuments, are not by the act of protest breaking any laws that I am aware of.

    • Nathan Towne Jun 13, 2020 @ 4:58

      I mean, it is not really his opinion. It is just fact. Those who deface public monuments are criminals, who should be prosecuted for their crimes.

      • Kevin Levin Jun 13, 2020 @ 5:04

        I think most demonstrators understand that they are violating the law. That’s what civil disobedience is all about.

        • Nathan Towne Jun 14, 2020 @ 7:07

          Yes and those who deface public monuments should be tried for their crimes.

          • Tewari_Crescent Jul 3, 2020 @ 0:53

            😭😭😭😭.. Let’s charge them for treason, right? Those folks are treasonous, marking up a big ass statue of the boy who fought to demolish slavery, Lee did that right? He sure was noble in his fight to eradicate slavery wasn’t he i tell ya?

  • Roy White Jun 5, 2020 @ 15:05

    My father’s side of the family are all from Richmond and were advocates of the Lost Cause. Lee was a Christ figure who was spoken of with reverence. All of us grandchildren were taught the story of his life and his noble sacrifice for Virginia. At family gatherings, men folk would discuss various battles of the War Between the States. I had an uncle who would walk out of the church whenever the Battle Hymn of the Republic was sung. These were all genteel white supremacists who detested the KKK but did not want integration of any sort. The removal of the Monument Avenue statues is, for me, the equivalent of knocking down the Berlin Wall. My only regret is that it has taken so long to reach this point. Depending on the level of social isolation still enforced, I would like to be there to watch General Lee dispatched.

    • Diane Hyra Jun 6, 2020 @ 5:15

      I am overwhelmed by your analogy of the removing the statues on Monument Avenue being equivalent to the destruction of the Berlin Wall. Very powerful. Thank you.

    • Terry Klima Jun 6, 2020 @ 13:29

      If nothing else, your Uncle recognized that the Battle Hymn of the Republic was not a song that should ever be sung in a House of God, no matter one’s religious affiliation.

      • Jimmy Dick Jun 6, 2020 @ 17:11

        Something wrong with these lyrics?

        Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
        He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
        He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
        His truth is marching on.

      • Roy White Jun 6, 2020 @ 17:34

        Ha! Well…his objection was because it was a “Yankee” hymn. The theological/liturgical point of view was never discussed.

  • Paul O'Neil Jun 5, 2020 @ 14:32

    I would actually like the monument to now stay up with the projections now permanent.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2020 @ 14:34

      It’s incredibly powerful.

  • CH Jones Jun 5, 2020 @ 14:14

    I have been waiting a long time to see an image like that. I only hope that I can manage to be present when this thing is brought down. My great-great grandfather, William Ellis Jones, published the dedication speech when this monument was unveiled in 1880 (I believe that date is correct). He raised money for this monument and many others, and with his press (the first to open in Richmond after the war), he elevated the first scribblings of the lost cause to an audience beyond just ex-Confederates.
    He was there when this thing went up and I want to be there when it comes down. It’s very personal. It’s a family thing. I want to see made right all the wrongs that were done by my family in the city of Richmond.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2020 @ 14:16

      Thanks for the comment. The Lee Monument was dedicated in 1890.

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