Monday, July 2, 2018

Mayor Stoney Announces Release of Monument Avenue Commission Report


The Monument Avenue Commission has completed a yearlong review and public engagement process examining the Confederate statuary of Monument Avenue and submitted its report to Mayor Levar M. Stoney. As promised, the full report submitted to the mayor is available to the public and can be found on the website, monumentavenuecommission.org

The 117-page report, prepared by the 10-member Commission appointed in June 2017, is a thorough review of history, recent events, public engagement and research on the Confederate monuments that, as the Commission report states, has “been a source of pride and shame for the City’s residents since the time of their installations.” The report concludes with series of options recommended for consideration by city officials that suggest ways given the current legal climate in Virginia, “to determine how best to reconcile a particular landscape viewed as both sacred and profane.”

“Given all we have heard, read and learned, the Commission strongly endorses a comprehensive approach that creates an environment (and City) that celebrates the contributions of many diverse groups and acknowledges the darker chapters of the City’s past,” states the report, which was compiled by Commission co-chairs Christy S. Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum, and Dr. Gregg D. Kimball, Director of Education and Outreach for the Library of Virginia.

“In the course of the work, it became abundantly clear the majority of the public acknowledges Monument Avenue cannot and should not remain exactly as it is. Change is needed and desired. The public offered many fascinating ideas, and the majority seemed to favor a multi-faceted approach.”

The Monument Avenue Commission does not have legal authority and its report is not binding on city government. But the commissioners recommend a number of options and opportunities for the administration and city officials to explore for Monument Avenue. Among them:

  • Adding permanent signage that reflects the historic, biographical, artistic and changing meaning over time for each monument, to be drafted by prominent academic historians subject to approval by the Public Art or Planning Commissions.
  • Creating a permanent exhibit that takes a deeper historical look into the history of the monuments, creating a mobile app and new film and video features that ensure the narrative about Monument Avenue is “consistent and historically accurate.”
  • Engage Richmond’s arts community to create “new contemporary artistic works that bring new and expanded meaning” to Monument Avenue.
  • Commission a monument that commemorates the resilience of the formerly enslaved, such as a work dedicated to soldiers of the United States Colored Troops.
  • Pending the outcome of current litigation or changes in state law, remove the Jefferson Davis monument and repurpose the site for a new monument. “Of all the statues, this one is most unabashedly Lost Cause in its design and sentiment,” the commissioners wrote.
“A holistic narrative acknowledges the emotional realities the Monument Avenue statues represent as well as other assets within the City,” the report states. “The options presented will require coordination between various groups within City government (Planning Commission and the Public Arts Commission) and – equally important – groups outside of it to implement the recommendations. The Commission also acknowledges one of the options will require a closer examination of existing law, outcomes of pending litigation and legislative action.”

In addition to research on the history of Virginia’s Monument Avenue, prevailing law and recent events, the report also includes data gathered through public engagement.
“We’d like to thank Mayor Stoney for convening this commission and for his faith in its members, and thank the residents of the City of Richmond for engaging with us throughout this important process,” Coleman and Kimball said in a joint statement. “It’s been an honor to serve.”

The convening of the commission, public engagement process and extensive research to produce the report marked the first time in more than 50 years that the City of Richmond has conducted a comprehensive review of Monument Avenue’s Confederate statues. During this process, the Commission received more than 1,800 letters and emails and solicited feedback from more than 1,200 people in public forums. Commission members, all volunteers, were not compensated and spent their own time and money to participate in the work of the Commission.

“On behalf of the City of Richmond, I want thank the members of the Monument Avenue Commission their service, and for taking on this responsibility at an important time in the life of our city and our nation,” said Mayor Stoney. “We are deeply grateful for their dedication, hard work and steadfastness to meeting the challenges of completing this task, which I consider to be a necessary step toward moving the city forward on this difficult issue and down a continued path of reconciliation and healing. I am especially thankful to Commission co-chairs Christy Coleman and Dr. Gregg Kimball for their countless hours and expertise in leading this distinguished group of scholars, historians and local public officials to promote a civil, civic conversation and expand our collective understanding of our history -- past, present and future.”

Mayor Stoney said he will take time to further study the report and urged others to do the same. 

 “Richmond has a long, complex and conflicted history, and the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue represents a shameful part of our past,” Mayor Stoney said. “As I have said before, the statues on this beautiful street are Lost Cause myth and deception masquerading as history. They are monuments to Jim Crow that do not reflect the qualities of inclusivity, tolerance and equality we celebrate as values in our city today. The Commission’s report is unequivocal in its affirmation that there is an overwhelming desire and belief they should not remain as they currently are. Something needs to change, and I could not agree more.”

A public presentation of the report to City Council by co-chairs Coleman and Kimball will be scheduled later this summer.

“This conversation will undoubtedly continue and I look forward in the coming weeks to reviewing this report in depth and exploring its recommendations with our administration, city council and various boards and commissions to see how we can translate the good work that has been done into concrete steps that move our city forward,” the Mayor said.

Key Narrative Excerpts from the Report:
“The statues on Monument Avenue have been a source of pride and shame for the City’s residents from the time of their installations. As the city has become more ethnically, politically and socioeconomically diverse, tolerance for the monuments’ artistic and cultural meaning has shifted over time. In essence it is a question of whether or not Monument Avenue reflects the citizenry and its values. It is for these reasons the commission was formed and tasked to determine how best to reconcile a particular landscape viewed as both sacred and profane.”

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“In the course of the work, it became abundantly clear the majority of the public acknowledges Monument Avenue cannot and should not remain exactly as it is. Change is needed and desired. The public offered many fascinating ideas, and the majority seemed to favor a multi-faceted approach.”

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“The sanitizing of textbooks in Virginia persisted well into the late twentieth century. It should be no surprise, then that the Commission heard such opinions in our listening sessions, despite several generations of academic scholarship that have largely corrected the historical record.”

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“During the course of the meetings, it became abundantly clear that there were a number of historical inaccuracies being repeated by the public throughout the public meeting process about a number of topics related to the monuments. The Commission drew on the collective historical knowledge and collections of the Commonwealth’s preeminent state historical institutions, resulting in the website “On Monument Avenue” (onmonumentave.com). Likewise, the Commission drew on the collective research and publications of the scholarly community and other documented studies of Confederate memorialization.”

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“We hope that the history presented here and on the Commission’s Website “On Monument Avenue” provides citizens with a common base of knowledge for discussing Monument Avenue and other examples of Confederate memorialization in the City of Richmond. The history also supports telling the story of the avenue in a variety of styles of interpretation and creating a robust dialog with the monuments. What the history cannot do is provide a definitive answer to the question of whether the monuments are appropriate as a representation of the city and its residents.”

The report also contains an Appendix that includes a number of source documents that may be helpful, including:

  • The Mayor’s initial remarks establishing the commission (Appendix A)
  • State laws governing Confederate Memorials (Appendix B)
  • City of Richmond Attorney Legal Opinion on the Monuments (Appendix C)
  • Data on Public Engagement
Key Dates:

June 22, 2017 – Mayor forms Monument Avenue Commission. Appoints 10 members to engage the public, explore ways to add context to existing Confederate statuary and suggest ideas for new monuments.

August 9, 2018 – First public meeting, attended by more than 500 people.

August, 16, 2017 – After tragedy in Charlottesville, Mayor expands scope of Commission to consider removal and/or relocation of monuments. Expresses his personal belief that the Monuments should be removed and/or relocated.

September 16, 2017 – Pro-Confederate Rally held in Richmond – Fewer than a half-dozen members of the Tennessee-based group New Confederate States of America (CSA II) show up at the Lee statue and are met by hundreds of counter protestors. Event results in no injuries and a handful of arrests.

November 14, 2017 – Monument Avenue Commission work session held.

January – May, 2018 – Delegations of commissioners attend small group meetings requested by community organizations.

May 10, May 19, 2018 – Final two public meetings held by the MAC and evening public work session to review findings from public engagement process and discuss elements of Commission report.

July 2 – Commission submits report to Mayor, following one-month extension to prepare and write the report
For more information, please visit monumentavenuecommission.org.