The former monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, was transformed by a groundswell of racial justice activism during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Originally sited in the heart of the city as a symbol of the Confederacy, the now-removed statue, and the grounds it once occupied, have become famously known as a place of protest and a site of reckoning with the nation’s history of slavery, white supremacy, and the ongoing police brutality towards unarmed Black individuals. Beginning in early summer of 2020, the statue’s granite base quickly became covered in layers of spray painted messages, like “Black Lives Matter” and “Justice for Breonna Taylor,” and the green space encircling the monument was steadily occupied by peaceful demonstrators demanding the statue’s removal. On September 8, 2021, Lee and his horse were finally removed, and the base remains.
In this project, I explore how and why the meaning of the statue was changed by the graffiti, and the collective actions of protestors and lawmakers. How does this transformed sculpture reframe our understanding of the past and the present? I spoke with several young Richmond activists who fought for the sculpture’s removal, to find out how they felt before and after its transformation. And I interviewed Dr. Lyndsey Beutin, who studies how the memory of slavery is used in contemporary political movements, to understand the significance of the altered pedestal as a newfound symbol of racial equality.
Lawler, Andrew. “The origin story of Monument Avenue, America’s most controversial street.” National Geographic, July 27, 2020. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/origin-story-monument-avenue-america-most-controversial-street
Rankin, Sarah and Denise Lavoie. “Gen. Lee statue comes down in former Confederate capital.” AP News, September 9, 2021. https://apnews.com/article/robert-e-lee-statue-virginia-removed-92955a351d9fda6319f379ddc28df8a0
Scheider, Gregory S. “No longer untouchable, Lee statue becomes focus of civic outpouring in Richmond.” The Washington Post, June 15, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/no-longer-untouchable-statue-of-lee-becomes-focus-of-civic-outpouring-in-richmond/2020/06/15/acf6e16e-af11-11ea-856d-5054296735e5_story.html
Thank you to DeVan Ard, my mentor who connected me to Dr. Lyndsey Beutin and also helped me find a place to film certain areas.
Thank you to Dr. Lyndsey Beutin, who spoke with me and added an academic perspective to my work.
Thank you again to Kelly Hardcastle Jones, Emily Gadek, and everyone at the Religion, Race & Democracy Lab, as well as Will Goss and Light House Studio for helping me make this project complete.
Thank you to Makayla, Xavier, Jake, and Connor for speaking with me and adding life and insight to this project.
This project was made possible by
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