One of the toppled statues can still be seen, but visitors will have to cast their eyes down instead of up. Jefferson Davis lies prostrate at the Valentine, a downtown Richmond museum. In June, the statue went on display as it was found after it was torn down, mottled with Pepto-Bismol-pink paint, the remnants of a toilet paper noose poking from its collar.
“We wanted to document a moment in Richmond history, explain both what happened as the monument was erected in 1907 and the environment of 2020 when it was pulled down,” said Bill Martin, the director of the Valentine. The museum owns 800 pieces by Edward Valentine, the sculptor of the Davis statue and a brother of the museum’s founder. (The artist’s studio, under renovation, is in the back garden. His notions of Lost Cause mythology and racial stereotypes will be addressed when it reopens late next year, Mr. Martin said.)
Post-it notes provided for visitor feedback are stuck to a column by the Davis statue, the majority expressing thoughts like “Good riddance!” and “Should have been done years ago.” Someone less happy with the outcome wrote: “Sad that so many are so ignorant and destructive.”
The city’s Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia owns the statue now, as well as the other four removed from Monument Avenue, which are said to be securely stored near a waste water treatment plant. The Davis statue will most likely remain on loan at the Valentine until it travels to Los Angeles for an exhibition next fall called “MONUMENTS,” a collection of decommissioned Confederate statues and contemporary works, co-organized by LAXART, a nonprofit visual art space, and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA).
Hills and valleys of history
In a valley easily reached from the Valentine is the neighborhood of Shockoe Bottom. From 1830 to 1865, Richmond was second only to New Orleans as a slave-trading hub, and Shockoe Bottom — rank with auction houses, slave jails and a gallows — was at the center of that industry. The infrastructure was largely covered over, as was the African Burial Ground, which became a parking lot.
Today, the asphalt is gone, and the grassy, tombstone-less field feels forgotten, despite a few commemorative markers. Political and community initiatives are underway to do something more to memorialize the graveyard. Another major African burial ground has been identified beneath an abandoned gas station on Shockoe Hill and recently got a historical marker.