A Capital Problem

This morning we took a stroll down Richmond’s Monument Avenue, a tree lined boulevard with a number of attractive and impressive homes and mansions.

It’s a street that has garnered some negative attention of late, as it is home to some of the largest and best known statues of Confederate generals and soldiers including the first and only President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. We decided to visit to see what, if any, progress has been made in the former capital of the Confederacy given the current national dialogue concerning these kind of memorials.

Most of the statues in Richmond were erected in the early 1900s, some forty or fifty years after the war. Historians have linked the appearance of these monuments to the rise of racially motivated domestic terrorism and white supremacy which peaked in the early decades of the twentieth century. There have been more recent attempts to detract eyes from the overwhelming visual dominance of these military figures by including statues of native Richmond heroes like Arthur Ashe, but such statues are few and to be honest, they seem a little out of context.

Statue of Stonewall Jackson
Statue of Jefferson Davis
Statue of J.E.B Stuart
Statue of Arthur Ashe

One thing our students immediately noticed was the lack of Confederate battle flags that may have once adorned the monuments. The metal holders were still in place, but the flags have been removed. We understand that Richmond, like many other Southern cities is actively grappling with the issue of the statues. We’ve talked extensively about this in class, so our students were prepared to see evidence, such as bumper stickers, signs (such as the one below), and protests that the debate was heated. They weren’t surprised to see one man salute the memorial to J.E.B. Stuart as he drove by.

If you are interested in reading further about the current debate, the American Civil War Museum and Monument Commission have published an interesting and and insightful website to help the citizens which we’ve linked above.

After discussion and a brief lunch, we visited the new American Civil War Museum and Tredegar Iron Works which is located on the banks of the James River. The museum has received praise for giving an fair and unbiased interpretation of the War. We were happy to see exhibits dedicated to Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass and very pleased to see how this museum was also making an effort to trace problems of mass incarceration back to the institution of slavery.

The Iron Works site consists of the remnants of what was once a fairly extensive iron and bronze production facility–and indeed, the only such facility in the South at the time of the Civil War that was capable for producing artillery pieces, cannon balls, gun barrels and such that were essential for the Confederacy to fight effectively in the conflict. As one of our tour guides pointedly and proudly noted, “without Tredegar, there is no Confederacy.”

After leaving downtown Richmond, we stopped for a while to walk around the beautiful campus of the University of Richmond.

And now on to Jamestown, Kitty Hawk, and the Outer Banks!

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