Thad Williamson is a professor, writer and civic activist teaching at the University of Richmond. His work focuses on the connection between theories of democracy and social justice and the practice of public policy and public administration.

Monuments to Justice Must Go Up, Monuments to Racism Must Come Down: A Fourth of July Statement

Monuments to Justice Must Go Up, Monuments to Racism Must Come Down: A Fourth of July Statement

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These words, published on this day 243 years ago, continue to call us to fulfill the work of human equality and American democracy.

We know that when these words were first published our nation was far from equal. And as the former capital of the Confederacy, we still live with the trauma and divides that inhibit us from fully becoming the city and nation of our dreams.

But today, we have the opportunity to write a new script, a new narrative for our City and for this nation.

We are in a battle for the soul and for the future of our nation and the democratic project. What we choose to do in Richmond matters—both for ourselves and for the nation.

Here’s what I believe: We cannot become the City of Richmond we need to become, a city in which every child has the opportunity to reach her full potential, if we do not write a new script, a new narrative for our City.

And after numerous years of working to fight poverty, to establish the Office of Community Wealth Building, to enhance support for our children, I have concluded that we can’t have it both ways. We can’t claim to be a bold progressive city and tolerate monuments to racism in the midst of our most prominent thoroughfare.

We must bring the Confederate monuments down, at the same time we work tirelessly to confront our deep legacy of racism and its impact on our schools, our housing, our economy.

I issue this statement today in many roles: as a scholar, as a son of the South whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy and owned enslaved people, as a beneficiary of white privilege; as a citizen of 14 years in this city and as someone who has tried to move our City’s policy in the direction of economic and racial justice; and also as a candidate for Richmond City Council in the special election for the 5th District Seat.  

 The existence of these monuments in their current form are a flagrant, visible show of disrespect to African-Americans and to the ideals of democracy and equality that we celebrate on the 4th of July. We can hardly expect to achieve racial equality in educational, housing, and economic outcomes when our most visible public spaces romanticize, even celebrate white supremacy.

We need a Monument Avenue that reflects the true triumphs of our city’s history and points the way to a just future. For me, right now the real Monument Avenue begins and ends with Arthur Ashe. But there are so many more stories of resistance and triumph that are not being told, that remain marginalized. And they must be told not only on Monument Avenue, but in Shockoe Bottom, and throughout our city.  

I am committed to working for the removal of the Confederate monuments, in a legal and responsible process, as rapidly as possible, and relocating them to a location where they can be viewed as historical artifacts.  I strongly support legislative action at the General Assembly level to give the citizens of Richmond the right to decide what to do with these monuments, just as other southern cities have done. It is imperative as a matter of civic identity and basic justice that the residents of Richmond determine which symbols are allowed to represent us to the world. And once we win that power, I will vote for the removal of Confederate monuments, whether it’s as an elected Council member in a Council vote or as an ordinary citizen casting a ballot in a referendum.  

We are no longer that same Richmond that subscribes to the Lost Cause. We are instead a City that wants to tell the truth about the past and wants to do the hard work to become a more equitable city. And in this regard, there is no difference, no divide between our need to demand the General Assembly give us the right to tell our own story unhampered by the myths of the past and our demand for more educational funding and more resources to confront the legacies of racism and poverty. It is the same struggle, and victory and progress in one area only reinforces the other.

That’s what it means to write a new script for our City: one finally freed from the crippling and false ideology of white supremacy, and one firmly committed to inclusive democracy. We must have the courage to live into the promise of the Declaration of Independence, the hope of enslaved people, the example of the freedom fighters in our city’s and our nation’s history.

These monuments must come down, and a new legacy based on justice and inclusion, inscribed in the laws on our books, the dollars in our budgets, and yes the monuments in our public spaces, must go up.

Note: An extended version of this statement can be found here.

Authorized by Thad Williamson for Richmond City Council

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