Virginia’s Democratic Governor Ralph Northam is spending $25 million to build progressive statues and historical monuments around Virginia, including $11 million on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
Northam, who caused national controversy in the spring of 2019 when racist photos of him in blackface were revealed in his 1984 college yearbook, says the $25 million is necessary to reflect “historical justice.”
The Controversy Over General Robert E. Lee
Most of Monument Avenue’s Confederate-related statues were removed this past July after protests following the death of George Floyd. Ongoing controversy of a 21 foot tall statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee led to Northam’s promise that it would be taken down in June.
Lee led the Army of Northern Virginia during the US Civil War from 1862 to 1865.
Protests and controversy also broke out around other statues of Lee around Virginia, including during the Unite the Right alt-right demonstrations in 2017. Many have been torn down or removed.
The removal of the massive Lee statue on Monument Avenue, however, was prevented when citizens filed a lawsuit. Despite losing in October, the residents who filed the suit are appealing to the US Supreme Court.
Why Does Northam Say the Funding is Necessary?
According to Virgina’s racially-sensitive governor the $25 million is necessary in order to “present a more complete and honest picture of our complex history,” adding that “we must work to enhance public spaces that have long been neglected and shine light on previously untold stories.”
There is no explanation by Northam of how telling “untold stories” will help feed the thousands of economically devastated Virginia families and small business owners struggling with the effects of the coronavirus shutdowns including eviction.
At this point the $25 million “historic justice” makeover project just needs approval from Virginia’s Democrat-majority General Assembly.
According to Patrick Sweeney, who led residents in the suit against the removal of the Monument Avenue statue of Lee, Northam’s push to remove Confederate statues is disrespectful of Virginians and implies they are racist for respecting history.
“Instead of a gracious attempt to acknowledge that most opponents of removal of statues are not hateful and racist, the Governor has inflicted an emotional insult that will not soon be forgotten. A deepened divide between the races will be his legacy,” McSweeney said.
‘There’s an Element of Healing’
The Virigina Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond will be responsible for hiring employees and instituting the massive new project Monument Avenue, which gets $11 million of the $25 million.
Museum director Alex Nyerges said the changes are about moving forward into a better future.
“It is about looking to the future, looking to a future that’s inclusive, that’s forward-thinking, and there’s also an element of healing,” he said, adding that in terms of the Confederate statues that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney previously took down:
“These monuments have been on Monument Avenue for 130 years. They were objects of oppression, they were objects of racism, and that has scarred this community, it’s scarred generations of Richmonders.”
However, even some supporters of the idea of a historical revamp weighed in that now is not the time.
I’m all for this. But right now, that 25m needs to be put in helping those who will be evicted next month. In helping those who are hungry. In helping the schools and just about anywhere else in the city. https://t.co/zYfv6DkpNr
— nbutkovich (@nmbutkovich) December 11, 2020
The $25 million project will include $9 million toward upgrading the historical Slave Trail in Shockoe Bottom and the Slavery Heritage Site as well as Lumpkin’s Jail, a historical site that shows the jail where large numbers of slaves were kept.
An addition $5 million of the funding is slated for building a graveyard by taking old gravestones that were in the former Columbian Harmony Cemetery in Washington, D.C. and making them into a display called the Harmony Living Shoreline memorial.
However the $25 million redesign turns out in the end, it’s clear that in the middle of a national economic and health crisis is not the time to play identity politics, especially from a man who was caught red-handed being a racist buffoon.
Yes. Northam. Northam is a monument of inequity! 😒 The man was photographed in blackface — not some stupid kid prank, but as an adult in medical school! — weathered the political storm, and is now out here preaching the gospel of anti-racism?! 🤯
This isn’t irony. It’s madness. https://t.co/1uRtWVJXtX
— melinda d. anderson (@mdawriter) June 4, 2020