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Mayor Stoney: Diversity, context needed on Monument Avenue

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced the formation of a Monument Avenue Commission to help "redefine the false narrative of the Confederate statues that line Richmond's grandest boulevard."

The commission he said, would be made up of experts in history, art, government culture, as well as community leaders.

It is led by American Civil War Museum CEO Christy Coleman and Library of Virginia Director of Education and Outreach Gregg Kimball.

"It’s our time; it’s our responsibility to set the historical record straight on Monument Avenue’s confederate statuary," Mayor Stoney said. "Equal parts myth and deception, they were the ‘alternative facts’ of their time – a false narrative etched in stone and bronze more than 100 years ago – not only to lionize the architects and defenders of slavery – but to perpetuate the tyranny and terror of Jim Crow and reassert a new era of white supremacy."

While cities like Charlottesville and New Orleans have either voted to remove or actually removed Confederate monuments, Richmond -- which served as the capital of the Confederacy during the Civil War - has not done so.

The monuments are protected by the Commonwealth of Virginia.

While the mayor did not call for the removal of the Confederate monuments, he opened the door for new signage to help add context and tell a complete story around them -- "an explanation of what they actually are: who built them, why they were built and how they came to preside over the culture of this city."

"It is my belief that without telling the whole story, these monuments have become a default endorsement of that shameful period – one that does a disservice to the principles of racial equality, tolerance and unity we celebrate as values in One Richmond today," he said.

He also said the city would explore adding new statues to Monument Avenue -- a National Historic Landmark.

The "12-ton, 21’ high bronze statue sitting on a 40’ high granite pedestal," monument to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was erected in 1890.

Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond

The Lee Monument was followed by monuments to Confederate figures Jeb Stuart and Jefferson Davis (1907), Stonewall Jackson (1919), and Matthew Fontaine Maury (1929).

A monument to honor Richmond-born tennis champion Arthur Ashe Jr., the first African-American man to win Wimbledon, was unveiled in 1996.

"I think we should consider what Monument Avenue would look like with a little more diversity," Mayor Stoney said. "Right now, Arthur Ashe stands alone -- and he is the only true champion on that street."

The Monument Avenue Commission will consider input gathered at two public meetings which will be held over the next 90 days. The dates, times, and locations will be announced soon. Input can also be submitted online.

RELATED: Why Monument Avenue is safe as other cities remove Civil War statues

While much of the national focus might be on adding or taking away statues, Mayor Stoney offered another avenue to help Richmond tell a more complete story.

"Let’s make our next monument a new school. A new community center. An alternative to public housing that restores dignity and pride of place," he said. "America’s history has been written and rewritten and our struggle with race in this country persists, not because monuments rise or fall, but because, fear makes people falter.

"What lasts, however – the legacy that will endure – are the people we build, the minds we enlighten and nurture, and the hearts we open on both sides.

"If we can do that, then we will not just have a few new monuments. We will have thousands – living monuments to understanding, inclusiveness, equality and promise."