The first meeting of the Monument Avenue Commission was held Wednesday night, with well over 500 citizens showing up to share their ideas. That was the plan anyways, the meeting quickly became emotional, with boos, claps, and yells emanating from all sides.
The Monument Avenue Commission was created by Mayor Levar Stoney to explore possibly adding context to the Confederate monuments, or even constructing new monuments honoring others in Richmond’s history.
The meeting was held at the Virginia Historical Society, with some people having to be turned away due to high capacity. The speakers were chosen by lottery, although several other speakers were ultimately allowed to take the floor. The opinions completely crossed the ideological spectrum, and tempers were high.
“When you bring up the events in Charlottesville as justification for leaving the monuments alone, you’re just saying that you’d rather placate white supremacists and racists because you’re too much of a coward to stand up to white supremacy and racism,” said one man over a cacophony of boos and cheers.
One of the ideas proposed was to design another avenue to honor the city’s African-American history. “We have ignored them and I think the boulevard would be perfect for that,” said a female speaker, a former history teacher.
Despite the purpose of the commission being whether to remove the monuments, over and over again, people found themselves debating instead on keeping them or removing them.
One speaker, echoing the sentiments of several attendees, proclaimed that it was time for the monuments to go.”They should go down, there’s nothing heroic about it, and it’s painful to this day.”
Still, others passionately pushed for the monuments to remain, arguing that they’re a part of the city’s heritage.
After many a heated speech, the head of the commission paused to remind the attendants about their purpose, which is to discuss the potential adding of context to the confederate monuments or even adding more statues to the city honoring others.
The reminder did not dissuade people from speaking their mind.
“These are monuments that were installed well after the civil war in celebration of slave-owning war mongers,” said one young woman, in an impassioned speech. “These were never intended for historical education. They are quite literally the opposite of accurate historical education as they are a celebration of a genocide of African people that barely touches on the actual genocide that was American slavery and a slavery which is legally permitted to continue in our prisons today pursuant the 13th amendment. I’ve done a lot of work having to undo the ridiculous and romanticized B.S. history that I was subject to in Virginia schools.”
One man later countered that simply doing anything to the monuments would be “sacrilegious.”
Another man even argued that the city should build a monument to honor “the black confederates that served in the Confederacy.”
One constant theme throughout the evening was the upcoming “Unite The Right” rally to be held in Charlottesville. “I hope to see all of you that support solidarity with black and brown folks on Saturday in Charlottesville,” said one young woman, in one of the night’s most memorable speeches.
She continued, explaining that a ““Unite The Right” rally has been planned by the alt-right and is growing with literal Nazis and fascists daily.
“They are rich kids using your confederate monuments to trick you again into their violent movement. Many in this room are falling in lock step with Nazis without realizing and many who know and are proud to be out in the open and many others are ready to defend the communities under attack by right wing violence. And then there are many fence straddlers.”
The commission ultimately decided to cut off her mic.
Mayor Stoney, the creator of this commission, did not attend the meeting.
The next public hearing on the issue is Sept. 13.