I understand that there are deep generational wounds that exist because of the wrongs that took place in this country. I understand that it has been a long road that we really have just begun to travel. I understand that black people have every right to feel left out of the American dream and those statues are a reminder of why.
However, taking down the monuments on Monument Ave will not get us where we want to go. It will not help one more child learn to read or lift one person out of poverty. It will not bring people together. It will not heal the long festering wounds of this country. Getting rid of those statues will actually rob us of an opportunity to uplift this country. To set an example and bring people together not only in Richmond but across this country.
Before the Civil War in Shockoe Bottom, there was Lumpkin’s Slave jail. A despicable place where despicable things happened. That is why it earned the nickname, the Devil’s Half Acre. After the Civil War, Mary Lumpkin gave the site to a Baptist minister so he could start the first black seminary which became the first black college, Virginia Union. The Devil’s Half Acre was reclaimed and transformed into God’s Half Acre. Virginia Union continues to this day its long legacy of uplifting young black people.
Monument Avenue isn’t just a half acre; it is 5 miles long. As it stands today it represents and glorifies the Confederacy. It should not stay as it is.
We must reclaim this avenue. We must transform this avenue. We must incorporate this avenue into a greater vision of making Richmond a place where stories are told. All stories.
We will do that by finally building a National Slavery Museum. We will do that by excavating, educating, and building historical sites in Shockoe Bottom. We will make sure Jackson Ward and Navy Hill aren’t given away for a sterile arena project but instead returned to the people by telling the stories of those that lived and thrived there while being treated as second class citizens by their government.
My plan for Monument Ave is to turn it into an open-air museum that completely changes the context. It will be turned into a timeline. Our timeline.
In the grass medians down the avenue will be a timeline on individual stone plaques in the ground (not signs on stakes) that mark and explain important moments in Richmond history. We will start with the native people of this area and work our way to modern day. We will build life-size statues along the way so people can come from all over the world to stand next to people like James Armstead Lafayette, Chief Powhatan, and John Mitchell Jr.
Instead of removing the current statues, we will add two new large monuments inside roundabouts.
The first to Oliver Hill, whose work as a civil rights attorney led to the desegregation of schools in the Brown v. Board of Education case.
The second to Douglas Wilder, a man born right here in Richmond the grandson of slaves, who would go on to be the first black elected governor of any state in the country.
We will change what this avenue means. We will change it to tell the story of who we were and how we became the people we are today. The story of a people who went from fighting a war to preserve slavery, to erecting monuments to Confederate generals, to electing the grandson of a slave as the first black governor in the country.
That is a story that only we can tell, and it deserves to be told. It must be told, and this is the best way to tell it. It is a story that can serve as inspiration that anything is possible. That no matter how bad things seem to be. No matter how racist people seem to be. No matter how stacked the deck seems, anything is possible and it is possible in a short amount of time.
That is a story that can show that we don’t have to hate each other. That is a story that can make Richmond, Virginia, the former capital of the confederacy, a beacon of hope for all of mankind.
That is our destiny as a city. A destiny we are going to fulfill.