Tower of Destiny | Richmond Free Press


What do you do when you don’t want to make a difficult decision?

Let someone else do it.

This is the view that outgoing Governor Ralph S. Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney take regarding Confederate statues – long-standing symbols of white supremacy and slavery – that were removed from the Richmond landscape in the past 18 months.

Closing several months of behind-the-scenes discussions, Governor Northam and Mayor Stoney jointly announced their intention to hand over decision-making regarding the statues to two museums, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center in Virginia and its partner, The Valentine Museum in the story of Richmond.

“Now it will be up to our thoughtful museums, informed by the people of Virginia, to determine the future of these artifacts, including the base of the Lee monument which has taken on special significance as an art of protest,” said Governor Northam.

As he prepares to step down on January 15, it is an opportunity to finally eliminate all state responsibility for a statue he says was designed to celebrate “the tragic division of our country. and the side that fought to keep the institution of slavery alive by whatever means possible.

Mayor Stoney, whose administration has spent more than a year unsuccessfully figuring out what to do with at least 10 Confederate city-owned monuments that have been demolished, added that “to entrust the future of these monuments and pedestals to two of our most respected institutions is the right thing to do. “

“They will take the time necessary to properly engage audiences and ensure the thoughtful future uses of these artifacts as we reimagine Monument Avenue, focus on fully and accurately telling our history in places like Shockoe Bottom, and uplift residents throughout. the city, “he said.

Discussions of this approach began after the Lee statue was removed in September, Free Press was told.

The city had advertised and received 23 offers, with most seeking donations of its statues. But as someone involved in the recent talks put it, “There was concern that these statues would eventually become the basis of a Confederate theme park, and no one wanted them.”

The plan which is being put forward, and which has the full backing of a Richmond city council which is equally reluctant to make a decision on the statues, calls on the city and state to keep the items in stock while museums hire the public and other institutional partners to think about what to do next.

City council is now rushing to take the first step to implement it: present and approve an ordinance to accept the state-owned statue title of Lee before Republican Governor-elect Glenn A. Youngkin enters. in operation on Saturday January 15.

The city’s governing body is also preparing to pass the titles of the Lee statue and the city’s Confederate statues and bases to the Black History Museum, which is to take the lead but would not have to pay for storage or care until a decision is made.

The city has already spent nearly $ 2 million to have black-owned contracting company Team Henry Enterprises remove its Confederate statues, and just awarded the same company a $ 1.5 million contract to dismantle the pedestals. remaining. The state also paid Team Henry Enterprises to remove Lee’s statue and pedestal.

The museums, which promise strong public engagement and the inclusion of parties that have submitted bids to the city for the statues, are being given up to five years to find a solution to the thorny issue of what to do with the relics.

Although no promises have been made, the museums are considering asking the city for funding to cover the costs of public engagement.

Many noted the irony of having a black institution leading the process of determining the fate of statues erected by those who only harmed the black community.

Marland Buckner, Acting Director of the Black History Museum, is eager to take up the challenge to raise the profile of the museum, especially as a cultural institution.

“Our institution will take very seriously the responsibility of managing these objects in such a way as to ensure that their origins and purpose are never forgotten, which is the glorification of those who led the fight to enslave African Americans and destroy Africa. Union.

“But we believe that with this responsibility also comes an opportunity to deepen our understanding of an essential part of American history: the expansion of freedom,” he said in a statement.

He promised that there would be “a process of sustained, thoughtful and large-scale community engagement that will inform decisions made regarding the future of the objects in this collection.”

William J. “Bill” Martin, director of The Valentine’s, has agreed that public engagement will be an ongoing priority, including initiatives to seek public input at festivals and events.

For example, he noted that The Valentine is partnering on a project this year to create light shows in Richmond with a focus on racial justice, and he said those shows would provide an opportunity to gather information from the public.

Along with the statue of Lee, the Black History Museum is to acquire the title of Statues and Pedestals of the Confederate People. JEB Stuart, Stonewell Jackson and Williams Wickham, Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Oceanographer and Navy Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury.

The Black History Museum would also obtain a copy of a Confederate canon; a monument to Confederate horseman Fitzhugh Lee; a statue of slavery and Jim Crow’s lawyer, Joseph Bryan; a statue to a Confederate unit in Richmond; and a statue to Confederate soldiers and sailors that stood on Libby Hill. For now, the list does not include Confederate General AP Hill’s engraver statue, located on Hermitage Road and Laburnum Avenue.

“These aren’t just huge objects in terms of physical presence,” said Greg Werkheiser, a Richmond-based attorney representing the Black History Museum and adviser to The Valentine. “These are huge objects for the public’s imagination.

A specialist in civic engagement and laws relating to cultural heritage, Mr Werkheiser said it was important that the transfer be made without any conditions.

“What’s really great about it is that there are no geographic or strategic limits imposed on what can happen,” he said. “I can honestly tell you that both museums are approaching this situation with a completely open mind.”

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