Throbbing with memories: Monument Avenue and civic life in early 20th Century Richmond

Within the last few months, Richmonders have used Monument Avenue as a base, and a target, for civil protest. The Coalition for Accountability, for instance, marched from the Lee Monument to Shockoe Bottom, site of Richmond’s slave markets, to advocate for school reform, LGBQT rights, and the removal of Confederate statues. In doing so, they recognized the value of Richmond’s history and commemorative landscape as central to public life. Though with different outcomes in mind, they also carried on a tradition began, in part, by the monument builders themselves.

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Monuments and the paradox of racial violence in Virginia

On October 11, 1919, the day of the Stonewall Jackson statue unveiling at the corner of Monument Avenue and Boulevard, the Richmond Planet ran an anti-lynching editorial cartoon on its front page. In that year, white mobs and vigilantes unleashed a spasm of violence upon black Americans, particularly toward black soldiers returning from the Great War. The cartoon signaled both the Planet’s participation in the nationwide campaign for a federal anti-lynching bill and the terrifying reality of lynching in the lives of black Americans. The Planet did not make mention of the Jackson monument and did not make a connection between the newly enlarged Confederate memorial landscape in Richmond and the nationwide lynching epidemic.

Many people since 1919 have perceived a connection.

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“What mean ye by this monument?”

In October 1887, thousands of Richmonders gathered at the western edge of the city to lay the cornerstone for a heroic equestrian statue of General Robert E. Lee. The keynote speaker for the occasion anticipated a question that future generations might ask: ‘What mean ye by this monument to an enemy of the Union which you teach us to cherish and defend?’”

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“Killed at Chancellorsville”?: And Other Devils in the Details of the Stonewall Jackson Monument

When Lieutenant General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson was killed at the battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863, he was not just the Confederacy’s military idol, but an international military celebrity. Immediately upon learning of his death, English friends of the Confederacy began raising funds for a statue to him.

But wait: was Jackson killed at Chancellorsville? We’re getting ahead of ourselves.

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The Many Uses of a Stonewall

This guest post by Dr. Adrian Brettle is the first of two on Stonewall Jackson monuments in Richmond. The second will appear on Thursday. 

From the death of Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in 1863 until the unveiling of the equestrian statue on Monument Avenue in 1915, leading Virginians sought to realize their own ambitions and desires through the memorialization of the dead general. Interestingly, so did a number of Britons. The journey of Jackson’s memory highlights the ways that different people over time understood the past and harnessed it for their own uses.

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Statue Envy: How Richmond Fulfilled Its Promise to Honor J.E.B. Stuart

This is the second in a series of posts offering brief backstories on the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue

Major General James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart, commander of the Cavalry Corps of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, died in Richmond on May 12, 1864 from wounds received in the battle of Yellow Tavern the day before. Amid intense public mourning, the handsome 31-year-old West Point graduate whose bold leadership and flair for the dramatic made him the beau ideal of a Confederate soldier, was buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.

On May 14, 1864, Richmond City Council unanimously passed resolutions sending condolences to Stuart’s widow and appointing a committee “whose duty it shall be to report a design for a suitable monument and inscription” to Stuart. That promise ultimately led to the dedication of an equestrian statue of Stuart on Monument Avenue nearly a half century later.

The obvious question is what took so long?

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Women and Confederate Culture on Monument Avenue

Fitzhugh Brundage and Karen L. Cox, both historians of the Lost Cause, have recently noted the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s central place in the erection of Confederate memorials. The UDC today is keenly aware of its own history, and conscientious of how public attitudes have changed. “Our members,” writes current President-General Patricia Bryson, ”are the ones who, like our statues, have stayed quietly in the background, never engaging in public controversy.” But in today’s larger public dialog about Confederate history, the critical role of women in creating the pantheon of men on Monument Avenue is largely overlooked.

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