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Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reconciliation - The Right Message in the Wrong Place

Reconciliation takes many shapes and forms. In Richmond it takes the shape of the Reconciliation Monument at 15th and Main. It may be near to the original slave pens at Lumpkin’s Jail, but a lot of places are. How and why this site was chosen, I don't know why. Probably because the State owned the land and donated it, but it is the wrong place. Thousands of people pass this by everyday and don't ever see it. I've passed it by often and didn't even know it was there. I went to a vigil there last year and circled for blocks, stopping often to ask where it was and no one could place it. Finally I found it wedged in the corner of a busy intersection outside a state owned parking garage cattycorner to the Velvet "Gentlemen’s" Club. Is this any way to treat one of Richmond's most important monuments? There is very little contemplation to be gained sitting by the unshaded monument in the hot sun. Traffic zooms by from all directions, even from above.

I feel bad for the artist. In another location it would be a place of contemplation and reflection. The contrast of noise and commotion at this site disrespects the message it is meant to send, sending an altogether different message, that we had so little respect for this project that we just dropped it in the most convenient place we could find. Only a few hundred feet away is the attractive plaza of the Canal Walk Turning Basin. This would have been so much more appropriate. As it is, very few Richmonders or visitors will ever see or even find this site.

We can and should correct this mistake. The slave trade and its legacy have helped shape not only this city, but the country and generations of Americans, black, white or otherwise. Reconciliation is too important to be disrespected. Let's send a message to the whole world that we care enough to do this right. We cannot correct the wrong of the slave trade, but this we can and should correct.

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Bookstore Piet said...

Had no idea this existed.

Let's make a good contrast and move it to Monument Ave. If we are going to celebrate the defenders of slavery we should remember the victims in the same place.

Paul Hammond said...

"Had no idea this existed."

Thanks for making my point.

Anonymous said...


The "wrong place" for this statue was very intentionally chosen- it is near (if not on) the site of the former slave trading markets. The archaeological site for Lumpkin's jail, an infamous holding place for slaves awaiting auction (the owner of the jail was married to a black woman) is probably .25 mile north of the statue.

The statue is also on the city's slave trail- which traces the path from the slave ship docks, to the markets, and to other prominent sites important to African-American history.

So its location, while odd considering the modern neighbors (I-95 overpass, parking decks, and Velvet) is entirely appropriate given the history of the land it sits on and the city's efforts to memorialize the hidden parts of our history.

Here's my review of the unveiling:

Anonymous said...

But I agree with your comments on the importance of this statue and its message, and myself felt conflicted about its location when it was unveiled. My feelings have been eased some knowing the reasons for the choice, but you are right that the space isn't very conducive to reflection.

I think part of the issue here is historical- we put the things we're ashamed of in hidden locations. So the slave markets were in the swampy and flood-prone bottom- the highway went in there because it was following the train tracks (which followed the creeks), and now we have parking decks and strip clubs there because its been for so long undesirable, underused land. Now if we want to memorialize slavery on one of the sites that hosted some of its most horrific scenes- it's going to be in a neglected space that's been marginalized over the centuries.

Does that even make sense?

Paul Hammond said...

I understand the proximity issue. I was just so disappointed when I saw its placement. A couple hundreds yards west would have been so much better and visible and perhaps as historically accurate. The suffering and the smell of Lumpkins Jail must have been easily detected from the canal. I still maintain, while not doing so intentionally, the current site does not serve the mission of the monument.

I tried googling the location and came up empty. I had to drive by just to make sure of the intersection.

Paul Hammond said...

Did I say West? It should have been SW.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post Paul. I really mean that. Wrestling with these kinds of issues, regardless of where we settle on the rights and wrongs, are what truly brings about reconciliation, imo.

Having said that, I don't really have an opinion on the location of this statue. I am relatively new to Richmond and therefore don't feel I have an informed enough opinion to give the subject an honest speaking to. Enough to say that historical accuracy and effective placement seem to me essential elements to a successful monument. I'd give historical accuracy the edge by a nub. I like bookstore piet's comments about Monument Ave!

Question: Is the goal of the monument to bring about reconciliation? Or does it pre-suppose that reconciliation has already taken place, and that it commemorates it's success??

Paul Hammond said...

For my part, reconciliation must take place everyday, not by apologizing, but by giving and getting respect. The present is where reconciliation must take place and we are the agents of change.

I give historical accuracy the nod too, I just think 1/4 mile to the SW in a beautiful plaza by the canal would have been just as accurate and far more dignified.

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