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The Monument Avenue Commission has completed a yearlong review and public engagement process examining the Confederate statuary of Monument Avenue and submitted its report to Mayor Levar M. Stoney. As promised, the full report submitted to the mayor is available to the public and can be found on the website, monumentavenuecommission.org
The 117-page report, prepared by the 10-member Commission appointed in June 2017, is a thorough review of history, recent events, public engagement and research on the Confederate monuments that, as the Commission report states, has “been a source of pride and shame for the City’s residents since the time of their installations.” The report concludes with series of options recommended for consideration by city officials that suggest ways given the current legal climate in Virginia, “to determine how best to reconcile a particular landscape viewed as both sacred and profane.”
“Given all we have heard, read and learned, the Commission strongly endorses a comprehensive approach that creates an environment (and City) that celebrates the contributions of many diverse groups and acknowledges the darker chapters of the City’s past,” states the report, which was compiled by Commission co-chairs Christy S. Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum, and Dr. Gregg D. Kimball, Director of Education and Outreach for the Library of Virginia.
“In the course of the work, it became abundantly clear the majority of the public acknowledges Monument Avenue cannot and should not remain exactly as it is. Change is needed and desired. The public offered many fascinating ideas, and the majority seemed to favor a multi-faceted approach.”
The Monument Avenue Commission does not have legal authority and its report is not binding on city government. But the commissioners recommend a number of options and opportunities for the administration and city officials to explore for Monument Avenue. Among them:
- Adding permanent signage that reflects the historic, biographical, artistic and changing meaning over time for each monument, to be drafted by prominent academic historians subject to approval by the Public Art or Planning Commissions.
- Creating a permanent exhibit that takes a deeper historical look into the history of the monuments, creating a mobile app and new film and video features that ensure the narrative about Monument Avenue is “consistent and historically accurate.”
- Engage Richmond’s arts community to create “new contemporary artistic works that bring new and expanded meaning” to Monument Avenue.
- Commission a monument that commemorates the resilience of the formerly enslaved, such as a work dedicated to soldiers of the United States Colored Troops.
- Pending the outcome of current litigation or changes in state law, remove the Jefferson Davis monument and repurpose the site for a new monument. “Of all the statues, this one is most unabashedly Lost Cause in its design and sentiment,” the commissioners wrote.
“A holistic narrative acknowledges the emotional realities the Monument Avenue statues represent as well as other assets within the City,” the report states. “The options presented will require coordination between various groups within City government (Planning Commission and the Public Arts Commission) and – equally important – groups outside of it to implement the recommendations. The Commission also acknowledges one of the options will require a closer examination of existing law, outcomes of pending litigation and legislative action.”
In addition to research on the history of Virginia’s Monument Avenue, prevailing law and recent events, the report also includes data gathered through public engagement.
“We’d like to thank Mayor Stoney for convening this commission and for his faith in its members, and thank the residents of the City of Richmond for engaging with us throughout this important process,” Coleman and Kimball said in a joint statement. “It’s been an honor to serve.”
The convening of the commission, public engagement process and extensive research to produce the report marked the first time in more than 50 years that the City of Richmond has conducted a comprehensive review of Monument Avenue’s Confederate statues. During this process, the Commission received more than 1,800 letters and emails and solicited feedback from more than 1,200 people in public forums. Commission members, all volunteers, were not compensated and spent their own time and money to participate in the work of the Commission.
“On behalf of the City of Richmond, I want thank the members of the Monument Avenue Commission their service, and for taking on this responsibility at an important time in the life of our city and our nation,” said Mayor Stoney. “We are deeply grateful for their dedication, hard work and steadfastness to meeting the challenges of completing this task, which I consider to be a necessary step toward moving the city forward on this difficult issue and down a continued path of reconciliation and healing. I am especially thankful to Commission co-chairs Christy Coleman and Dr. Gregg Kimball for their countless hours and expertise in leading this distinguished group of scholars, historians and local public officials to promote a civil, civic conversation and expand our collective understanding of our history — past, present and future.”
Mayor Stoney said he will take time to further study the report and urged others to do the same.
“Richmond has a long, complex and conflicted history, and the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue represents a shameful part of our past,” Mayor Stoney said. “As I have said before, the statues on this beautiful street are Lost Cause myth and deception masquerading as history. They are monuments to Jim Crow that do not reflect the qualities of inclusivity, tolerance and equality we celebrate as values in our city today. The Commission’s report is unequivocal in its affirmation that there is an overwhelming desire and belief they should not remain as they currently are. Something needs to change, and I could not agree more.”
A public presentation of the report to City Council by co-chairs Coleman and Kimball will be scheduled later this summer.
“This conversation will undoubtedly continue and I look forward in the coming weeks to reviewing this report in depth and exploring its recommendations with our administration, city council and various boards and commissions to see how we can translate the good work that has been done into concrete steps that move our city forward,” the Mayor said.