I went to see the Juneteenth rally in Richmond because I’ve always been drawn to stories, to seeing things unfold. Beneath the grand statue of Robert E. Lee, a large crowd gathered. Songs were sung and words were said, stories told. People spoke of hope and change and the wish for better lives for their children going forward.
There were no riots, only a gathering of what seemed to be good people trying to push change. There were plenty of kids dancing and playing, vendors giving away free food and drinks, and people kneeling to read installations about the recent and continued history of abuses.
In later weeks, as has happened in other cities, the city of Richmond began dismantling the monuments to a painful period. I am no supporter of vandalism or the destruction of other’s property but I did find the graffiti-inflicted statue a beautiful visual testament to shifting sands of thought. And the city had already decided the statues would be removed. So all of this graffiti did not matter.
I suggested to friends that perhaps the movement should push to leave the statue of Lee, now “redecorated” with the colorful verbiage, lines of protest and even vulgarities. Remove General Lee and all is forgotten. Leave him in this renovated state as a monument to the movement, and thousands driving Monument Avenue would be reminded of this time. There was passion in this display, passion many of my friends could not understand. To them this was only vandalism. But standing there on that evening, this was also a quiet exorcism. Pain poured out. Hope nervously rekindled. It is time to change.
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