Less than a month ago, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney sat down with RVA Mag for a special interview with Municipal Waste’s Tony Foresta.
Topics ranged from local restaurants, music, and naturally Confederate statues.
Stoney said when he ran for office, he believed the Confederate statues required context and an explanation of what they actually are. Something he reiterated in his interview with RVA Mag.
“The people who erected those monuments, they were trying to tell a story,” Stoney said. “Now in this time, in 2017, we get to have the opportunity to tell the true story.”
Today he followed through.
Stoney said it’s time to “set the record straight” with the formation of the Monument Avenue Commission in a press conference this afternoon. Stoney has appointed 13 people to the committee, such as Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum, and Gregg Kimball, director of education and outreach for the Library of Virginia, who were appointed as commission co-chairs, and former city councilman Jon Baliles.
The committee will hold two public meetings before the end September, Stoney said the dates and times will be released in the coming days. The commission’s website is already up and running, accepting public input in an online form.
“We have a chance to advance the complete truth by using these symbols not for celebration but as tools to educate,” Stoney said. “I wish these statues had never been built, but like it or not, they are a part of this city and removal would never wash away that stain.”
For more than a century, the Confederate statues have lined Monument Avenue, giving it both its name and defining its landscape.
Stoney said the story the statues tell is an incomplete story at best, full of equal parts myth and deception. He said the statues were in part used to usher in 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,” Stoney said.
The commission has been charged with “helping the city redefine the false narrative of the Confederate statues that line Richmond’s greatest boulevard.”
Stoney said Arthur Ashe stands as the only “true champion” on the street. He has challenged the committee to change that by looking into adding statues along the avenue to highlight a more inclusive story of the Richmond.
Cities across the nation, like New Orleans and even Charlottesville just an hour up the road, have been grappling with how to handle Confederate statues and symbols. RVA Mag addressed the issue with an opinion piece, saying it was only a matter of time before these issues made their ways onto our own streets– literally.
“Racism doesn’t start, nor will it end because of some statues on a tree-lined street,” Stoney said. “It resides in hearts and minds. The way to change hearts is to educate minds.”
Although not on Monument Avenue, two statues celebrating Richmond’s black history are in the planning phases. The city will unveil a statue of pioneering Richmond banker Maggie L. Walker next month and the state is working to erect an emancipation statue by fall 2019.
The mayor’s announcement comes just weeks before a Ku Klux Klan rally takes place in Charlottesville.