Two weeks ago, here in Richmond, Virginia, the huge statue of Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue was removed. It was the last symbol of the Southern Confederacy remaining on a street which once was lined with tributes to the heroes of that cause. The statues, erected during the Jim Crow South, celebrated the “Lost Cause”, the idea that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights and not slavery and that slavery was a benevolent institution. Those reminders of the fight to maintain human slavery started to come down last summer, in the wake of the movement centered around the murder of George Floyd.
Today, a new statue was unveiled in Richmond, this time on Brown’s Island on the James River. It is entitled “Emancipation and Freedom” and features 3 African-Americans. A black man is depicted with whip marks on his back and chains falling off him. A black woman is shown with a determined look, holding up in one hand the Emancipation Proclamation and a baby in the other. Below the figures is the word “Freedom”, along with images and life stories of 10 representative African-American Virginians. That provides the kind of rich context missing from the Confederate statues.
It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves. It is also a long overdue recognition and representation of the real history of the American South, far different from that represented for over a century on Monument Avenue.