Heroes of the past are considered dishonorable today. Should these relics be removed or preserved as mementos of history?
A drone image shows the area surrounding the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. The statue, erected in 1890, is slated for removal. Protests demanding the removal of racist symbols were sparked by the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photograph by John Biggs.
By National Geographic
Richmond, Virginia’s city hall was packed on July 17th, 1995 with people who had come from as far away as Florida for a hearing on a proposed monument to the late Arthur Ashe, an African American tennis champion and humanitarian who was born in the city. The question was whether to honor Ashe on Richmond’s famous Monument Avenue, which had celebrated General Robert E. Lee since 1890; other Confederate leaders were added in decades that followed.
Former Virginia Governor Douglass L. Wilder, the first African American elected governor in the United States since Reconstruction and a longtime friend of Ashe, had lobbied relentlessly for the statue. He and other supporters had been met by ferocious blowback, primarily by people who considered the boulevard a shrine for the preservation of Confederate memories.
Then Councilwoman Viola Baskerville, a 43-year-old African American, cast her ballot in favor of the Ashe statue.
“There was a lot of animosity in that room. You could see it in people’s eyes,” says Baskerville, who went on to serve in the cabinet of Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, now a U.S. senator. “I still believe that a statue of Arthur Ashe belongs on Monument Avenue. It’s a symbol of perseverance and excellence. But we’re fighting ghosts. There’s a lot of blood in the soil. There has been no resolution; we are still restless and torn.”
A quarter-century later, the statue of Arthur Ashe may soon be the last one standing on Monument Avenue in Virginia’s capital. In the past month, Confederate monuments adorning the boulevard have either been toppled or are slated for removal. Pushed by a dizzying groundswell of opposition to long standing symbols of the Confederacy and white supremacy, numerous state and local governments, universities, corporations, and entertainers such as the Dixie Chicks and Lady Antebellum, have taken decisive steps to distance their names and brands from iconography of America’s racist past. Read more >>