Mayor Dwight C. Jones weighed in last week on whether Richmond should remove Confederate statues from Monument Avenue. Rather than tear the statues down, the mayor recommended the city erect more to better tell the full story of Richmond’s history.
In light of Jones’ comments, we reached out to people across the city and asked: Who would you memorialize on Monument Avenue? And why? Their answers are below.
Edward Ayers, former president of the University of Richmond, noted Civil War scholar:
Edgar Allan Poe. One of America’s greatest writers, who lived in Richmond during his formative years.
Henry “Box” Brown, whose story of watching his family sold away from him embodies much of the horror of the domestic slave trade that unfolded in Richmond between 1820 and 1865, and whose efforts to free himself by shipping himself to Philadelphia embodies the determined efforts of enslaved people to make themselves free.
John Mitchell. The fearless and eloquent editor of the Richmond Planet, a pioneering African American newspaper
Oliver Hill, who helped undercut the entire edifice of segregation.
Ana Edwards, chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality:
"We do have a list actually, but more importantly we disagree with the mayor, who wants all 'heroes' represented on Monument Avenue. Those are not of heroes. Putting up statues of Black people now would just legitimize the Confederate statues. They should come down before we think about any other statues going up on Monument Avenue." (This is the email response we received from Edwards, in response to the same question we asked of the other respondents in this article, '"Who would you memorialize on Monument Avenue, and why?")
Stacy Burrs, former CEO of Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia:
John Mitchell. The fighting editor and city alderman. Born into forced servitude, fought against man’s inhumanity to man though boycotts and anti lynching campaigns. Collaborated with a former Confederate officer to cause the Leigh Street Armory to get built.
Gabriel or Nat Turner. Both literate yet enslaved Africans. Led resistance movements, facing certain death, in an effort to free their fellow enslaved Africans from a lifetime of degradation, humiliation and abuse.
Oliver Hill. Richmond-born attorney who used his prodigious skills to dismantle the system of separate but equal. Mr. Hill was also the first African American to serve on Richmond’s City Council since Reconstruction.
Greg Wingfield, former president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Partnership:
William Byrd. Founder of Richmond, laid out city, gave us the name.
Maggie Walker: First female bank president
Virginius Dabney: Pulitzer prize winner
Oliver Hill: Civil rights advocate
Jeff Majer, founder of History Replays Today podcast:
John Marshall. After being the first person serve in all three branches of the Federal government and more than three decades as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, it seems a pretty easy argument to say Marshall is the Richmonder who had the biggest influence on the formation of the U.S.
Maggie Walker. Walker is mostly known as the first black woman to charter a bank in the U.S. but her amazingness only begins there. Anyone who questions that has not been to the Maggie Walker House. She would not only add another African American to Monument Avenue to accompany Arthur Ashe but the two of them would also be the only two Richmond-born people represented on our grand avenue.
Elizabeth "Crazy Bet" Van Lew. She was one of, if not the most important, spies for our country during the Civil War, right here in RVA. In one stroke she is proof that women deserve monuments (which is lacking as of now), and that not all of Richmond fell in line with the Confederate rebellion.
Edgar Allan Poe. He is one of the most influential American authors, and for what seems like a less glamorous reasons, I feel like his name recognition could make Monument Avenue an even bigger tourist attraction.
Jack Lauterback, morning radio host on 103.7 Play:
D'Angelo. Although troubled at times, he's easily the most talented musician Richmond has produced.
John Murden, founder of Church Hill People's News:
John Mitchell Jr. My hero and the first name that comes to mind as deserving of further recognition. From his post as editor of the Richmond Planet during the days of the Jim Crow south, Mitchell railed against lynching throughout the region. Fifty-one years before Rosa Parks and MLK, he organized a black boycott of Richmond's segregated trollies. Mitchell also founded a bank, served as city alderman forJackson Ward, and ran for governor on the all-black "Lily Black" ticket. Fierce and fearless.
Maggie Walker. Another of Richmond's Jim Crow-era heroes, Walker was the first woman in America to open a bank. EVER. A tireless worker in community organizations and community-oriented businesswoman, Walker is an amazing representation of the strength of Jackson Ward at it's height as the "Harlem of the South" and as "Black Wall Street." Walker is community spirit, work-ethic and independence personified. If Richmond gets one new monument, it should be Walker.
Gabriel. Born in 1776, he died young trying to bring freedom to his people. Thirty-one years before Nat Turner's rebellion, Gabriel's 1800 plan to take Richmond with an army of the enslaved echoed the concurrent Haitian Revolution. Virginia was almost 40 percent enslaved in 1800; he would have changed the course of U.S. history if not betrayed by weather and fearful comrades. His life is a monument to the righteous fight against injustice even in the face of overwhelming odds.
Your turn: We need your suggestions for who else deserves a spot on Monument Avenue. Post them in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.