The question loomed again – massively so – a few minutes later as we strolled down Richmond’s most famous, or infamous, street: Monument Avenue. The boulevard was lined with statues of the Confederacy’s Holy Trinity – Davis, Lee and Jackson – and of two of their ablest lieutenants, Jeb Stuart and Matthew Fontaine Maury, a naval commander and brilliant oceanographer.
Having grown up near Washington, where most residents remained oblivious to ubiquitous pigeon-spattered statues of Union generals, I’d never really understood why people made such a fuss over Monument Avenue. But as we peered up at Robert E. Lee astride a rippling steed, I was taken aback. Lee’s bronze statue, set upon a white granite pedestal, stood sixty-one feet. The sculptor had substituted a French hunting horse for Lee’s wartime mount; Traveller was judged too slender a model for such a titanic equestrian. The other monuments were almost as imposing. And their placement on a tree-lined boulevard more than fifty yards wide gave the statues a dominating presence in what was otherwise a low-roofed residential district.
The scale of Monument Avenue also amplified the weirdness of the whole enterprise. After all, Davis and Lee and Jackson and Stuart weren’t national heroes. In the view of many Americans, they were precisely the opposite: leaders of a rebellion against the nation -separatists at best, traitors at worst. None of those honored were native Richmonders. And their mission failed. They didn’t call it the Lost Cause for nothing. I couldn’t think of another city in the world that lined its streets with stone leviathans honoring failed rebels against the state.
Confederates in the Attic
Even so, the monuments were at the heart of Richmond’s identity and were backed by powerful residents, and the fact that they came down seemed to surprise almost everybody.
“If you would have told me that the monuments were going to go down, I would have thought somebody would blow up Richmond first before anyone would have let that happen,” Mr. Bailey said. “I think it’s a modern-day miracle.”
Virginia Removes Robert E. Lee Statue From State Capital
The Confederate memorial was erected in 1890, the first of six monuments that became symbols of white power along the main boulevard in Richmond.
Sept. 8, 2021