I really like Richmond, which is a two and a half hour / 166 mile drive from my home in Chapel Hill. I can drive up there for the day. On this trip I wanted to see the condition of the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. I drove off the freeway and looked for a place to park on the south side of town, across the James River from the main part of the city. It was a neighborhood of trucking terminals and empty industrial spaces looking like a good place to dispose of a body. On this Sunday morning no one was around so I figured my car would be OK for a few hours. (Our 2005 Prius is full of dents and not really worth all that much!) I pulled out my bicycle. I had brought the Surley because fatter tires would be more comfortable on bumpy streets.
I bicycled towards the James River and the rest of Richmond. This sketchy industrial wasteland only lasted about three blocks before I saw the first sign of gentrification, a former industrial space that has been converted to upscale housing.
On this trip I discovered thriving and growing urban neighborhoods south of the Fan that I had not biked through before. Many of the late nineteenth century houses are smaller and some made of wood. The Southside of the James River neighborhood of Manchester was typical.
In between older areas that had been torn down there was new construction going up all over the place.
Three of my four great-grandfathers fought for the Confederacy but I realized many years ago that their cause was wrong. My first introduction in Richmond to Confederate “heroes” was passing over the James.
Earlier I had seen this while driving.
Most of Richmond is on the north side of the river. I again passed through neighborhoods I had not seen before and I was impressed, thriving urban spaces south of I-195.
North of Cary Street I entered the large neighborhood called The Fan. Houses were built bigger and fancier.
Monument Avenue runs along the north side of The Fan. As a street and a piece of urban planning it is lovely. Richmond has become a happening cosmopolitan city and to advance further as a city it might not be able to accept what these Confederate statues represent. Bob Lee is the oldest and largest, erected in 1890 as part of the real estate development that was Monument Avenue. It looked peaceful when I took this photo of the statue in October 2019.
This is what it was like on Sunday June 14, 2020. It felt like the Berlin Wall is coming down.
The atmosphere was festive and friendly at 11:00 AM on a Sunday morning. A group was performing some kind of dance routine. This video is only twenty three seconds long.
African Americans were taking pictures of each other standing at the base of the graffiti covered statue. They appeared to be proud to be there with their children to record this event.
“Give me liberty or give me death” was quoted by Patrick Henry in 1775 only about a mile away from here.
I bicycled up and down Monument Avenue on a delightfully unseaonably cool sunny day. People. that I assume include residents of this upper class neighborhood were out in force, including picnickers.
The Jefferson Davis memorial is Monument Avenue’s most egregious; it honors less the man (who was not a Virginian) than the cause and the ideology. This is what it looked like when I photographed it in October 2019. The relatively small statue of Davis stands at the center.
The statue of Davis is gone now. It was torn off by a crowd about a week ago.
The other three Civil War era statues were all covered in graffiti but not otherwise damaged.
Matthew Fontaine Maury
The Arthur Ashe statue stands further west and was untouched on this Sunday morning, although I have since heard that a contrary group has defaced it slightly.
I stopped and took a break for my lunch (vegan chicken salad from Weaver Street Market in Carrboro NC on seven grain bread, carried with a gel pack to keep it cool) at the tiny but peaceful Scuffletown Park.
I turned to bicycle back to my car. I passed through the Byrd Park neighborhood, another area that I had not previously bicycled through.
I crossed the James River on the Boulevard toll bridge. The James River provides white water action right here in the city.
Back in the Manchester neighborhood near my car I got an almond milk latte to drink during the drive home. Brewer’s Cafe is a locally and African-American owned coffee shop.
I was back in Chapel Hill NC about 4:30 PM.