In June of 2017, the Monument Avenue Commission was formed by Mayor Levar M. Stoney to take a look at the Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue. This would be the first such look at these monuments in over 50 years.
Upon founding the Commission created the Monument Avenue Commission to inform the public and solicit public input. Additionally, the Commission reviewed almost 2,000 letters and held multiple public meetings to receive input.
The overall trend of input could be broken into four major opinions:
- Keep the monuments and make no changes
- Keep the monuments and add context or new monuments
- Relocate the monuments
- Remove the monuments
These are the broad strokes the reality of everyone’s opinion is much more nuanced and discussed in depth in the report.
In the end, the Commision came up with 10 recommendations. Most of the headlines will be focused on the removal of the Thomas Jefferson Monument. The removal of the statue would most likely need changes in state law.
Here are all of the recommendations by the Commission:
- Add prominent permanent signage at the public right of ways adjacent to the Matthew F. Maury, Thomas]. “Stonewall” Jackson, Jefferson Davis, andJ.E.B. Stuart, monuments that reflect the historic, biographical, artistic, and changing meaning over time for Based on the City Attorney’s Opinion dated November 14, 2017, this should be an achievable goal in a relatively short span of time. There are a number of prominent academic historians who can draft the content for approval by either the Public Art or Planning Commissions.
- Given that the Robert E. Lee Monument is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia, similar permanent signage can be placed in the City’s right of way or sidewalks bordering This approach will ensure pedestrian and traffic safety.
- Work with the museum community to create a permanent exhibit that takes a far deeper dive into the history of the monuments and the people These organizations have collaborated to mine their collections and produced a website with online exhibition, reading materials and resources and a blog. An opportunity may exist to place a permanent outdoor exhibit in the median strip. A temporary exhibition could be produced for the courtyard of the Branch House Museum, located adjacent to the Davis Monument.
- Work with Richmond Regional Tourism and the Department of Economic Development/Office of Tourism to create a new video for the City’s website that can also run in hotel rooms. In addition to all the City’s assets, it can frame Richmond’s entire monument landscape as an example of its diversity and modernity. It will provide an opportunity to showcase the entire landscape as it exists and in the near future (i.e. Emancipation Statue, Virginia Women, and Native Americans) as well as ensuring the narrative about Monument is consistent and historically accurate.
- Produce a mobile app with the information found on the new signage.
To solicit input on changing the face of Monument Avenue by adding new monuments that would reflect a broader, more inclusive story of our history;
- Create new contemporary works that bring new and expanded meaning to Monument Avenue by immediately engaging artists locally and internationally. Richmond is blessed with a vibrant and diverse creative community. Independent artists can create works to be installed along several stretches of the Avenue on a permanent or rotating basis. This approach allows for new and powerful interpretations. In addition, VCU’s MoB Studio has received a significant grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to re imagine Monument Avenue. Solicitation for design concepts has begun with submissions expected fall 2018.
- Commission a monument that commemorates the resilience of the formerly enslaved. However, the Commission suggests taking the concept further by creating a work dedicated to soldiers of the United States Colored Troops. These troops were predominately formerly enslaved men who seized the opportunity to free themselves, their families and millions of others by shouldering arms. The juxtaposition to the Confederate Statues could be a powerful statement. In particular, many respondents strongly suggested honoring the 14 Medal of Honor winners noted for their bravery at New Market Heights seven of whom were Virginians. Individuals recommended in large numbers for new monuments include Maggie L Walker (a statue was installed at Broad and 2nd in July 2017), Doug Wilder, Elizabeth Van Lew, Gabriel, John Mitchell, Jr. and Oliver Hill.
- Partner with Initiatives of Change to submit the next phased proposal to the Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation (TRHT) program. Richmond is one of only ten cities/regions across the nation to be chosen for this major funding and programmatic opportunity. At the core of the TRHT is a charge to dismantle notions of a hierarchy of race and white supremacy through substantial narrative change. TRHT’s commitment acknowledges modern social, political, education and economic disparity and injustice are rooted in these supremacist notions which have built into the virtually every institution. Kellogg funding could be used to support a number of the options presented. This goal is more long term, but reflects aspirational goals expressed best by Mayor Stoney:
“… the legacy that will endure, are the people we build, the minds we enlighten and the hearts we open on both sides. When we do that, we will not just have a few new monuments. We will have thousands – LIVING monuments to understanding, inclusiveness, equality and promise.
- The Commission strongly recommends the City take a proactive and holistic approach to Richmond’s monuments and statuary in order to rectify the historical silences in the city’s landscape. The memorialization and historical interpretation of Shockoe Bottom are key to an honest reckoning with this aspect of the city’s past. Many citizens urged us to support efforts to create a robust and thorough telling of Richmond’s key role in the domestic slave trade. The Commission agrees that this should be a priority for our community.
To include an examination of the removal and/or relocation of some or all of the monuments.
- Pending litigation or changes in state law which the City may choose to initiate or support remove the Jefferson Davis Monument. Of all the statues, this one is the most unabashedly Lost Cause in its design and sentiment. Davis was not from Richmond or Virginia. The statue of Davis was created by Edward VirginiusValentine at his studio on Clay St which is part of the Valentine Museum. The Vindicatrix statue which sits at the very top can be relocated to a cemetery perhaps with Davis’s grave at Hollywood Cemetery. The plaques adorning the columns may be held in storage or returned to the United Daughters of the Confederacy which is the organization that raised funds to construct the piece. The remaining pedestals and mounts could be repurposed for a new monument or artistic work.