On a road trip with daughter Molly. She too is a history buff. When we went to Richmond on Oct. 14, I was most eager to drive down fabled Monument Avenue, where a new history is overtaking a former one.
For more than a century, Monument Avenue was famous for a parade of mounted Confederate leaders, deemed “Heroes of The Lost Cause” by those who planted them. They seemed likely to hover forever above those who passed, permanently secure on huge granite pedestals.
But change has come to Richmond: all the figures in this procession, save one, are gone now. In their places are monuments of a very different kind. Many are almost blank, the lettering engraved on their sides nearly invisible.
Yet on one in particular, new texts & images abound. The current authorities have worked to hem in these new words, and obscure them within a circle of high tight fencing.
Some of the new words are rude and profane. Their colors are strong and garish. The new artists did not, as far as I could tell, sign their work.
Fortunately, my camera is small, and fit into many of the narrow gaps between the posts linking the fence’s dozens of sections together. Still, the messages are clear enough, if haphazardly arranged.
Only one statue on Monument Avenue stood undisturbed when we were there, that of tennis great Arthur Ashe, which went up in 1996, more than a century after the others. Ashe was born & raised there in the city’s rigidly segregated years.
Ashe is the only person of color among them and, as a writer for Sports Illustrated recently noted, the only winner in the pretentious parade. On the bronze visage, his arm is raised, but he brandishes neither rifle nor sword but a tennis racket.
The image of the designated demigod of this doomed pantheon, Robert E. Lee, was the last to come down, on September 8, 2021, and it drew the most attention from the protest artists.
It stood in the center of its own traffic circle, and the massive pedestal remains. For how long, who can say?
But it is a monument still, covered with key texts of a new, and hotly contested “historical narrative.” Here are my glimpses of it, through the fence, on all four sides.
How long, I wonder, will it stand?