Statues and Residential Space

Conclusion

            The addition of Ashe integrated the avenue, but Monument Avenue continues to exclude African Americans by continually centering whiteness. In 1955, Robert Leon Bacon sent a letter to Virginia’s governor that discussed the exclusionary spaces of segregation, specifically stating, “I cannot go on Monument Avenue and visit a white girl from fear of being ‘lynched’ or beaten up or arrested or electrocuted.”[1] Though walking around the avenue was not as socially forbidden as it was in the 1910s, Bacon’s letter signifies how forty years later African Americans and other people of color still saw the monuments and avenue as a symbolic celebration of the Confederacy and by extension, of white supremacy. At the very least, Bacon’s words prove that African American men still felt unwelcomed and unsafe in the majority-white space of the avenue.

In 2010, the avenue continued to center whiteness: data from the four census tracts that comprise Monument Avenue show that the area had an average of 84% white residences and therefore this area was still a predominately white area residentially and culturally.[2] Much like the original intent of Monument Avenue, the western part of the city and suburbs remains majority-white in a city that has a larger African American than white population.[3] On the other hand, the African American majority areas in 2010 were in the southeast and center of the city, in residential areas geographically similar to the redlined neighborhoods the Homeowner’s Loan Corporation deemed “unfit” for bank loans in 1937.[4]

Monument Avenue not only continues to be majority-white but also continues to be a desirable area. The assessed median housing value of owner-occupied homes in the five census tracts that encompasses Monument Avenue is more than double that of the rest of Richmond. According to five year estimates of the 2019 American Community Survey, the median value of a home in the Monument Avenue area is $437,150 compared to the city-wide median housing value of $196,900.[5] Undoubtedly, this was the goal Fitzhugh Lee, C.P.E. Burgwyn and real estate developers had in mind in 1886 when they proposed Lee’s monument be placed in an undeveloped land west of the city’s center. Undoubtedly, the tax revenue the city received each year in property taxes from that neighborhood has far exceeded the city’s initial investment of Lee’s pedestal. Undoubtedly, people still stroll the tree-lined boulevard taking in the Greco-European style of the street and colonial architecture, equating the avenue with successful city planning. Undoubtedly, there are still neo-Confederates who view the avenue as a cultural hallowed ground celebrating the racial philosophy of the Confederacy. Undoubtedly, some African Americans and people of color view the avenue as representing the Confederacy, and perhaps some still feel excluded or unwelcome in the area. 

Therefore, it is not a stretch to say that the Monument Avenue historic district remaining majority white and desirable follows the precedent set by Robert E. Lee of creating an all-white space where African American people feel unwelcome. The neighborhood also continues the precedent set by Fitzhugh Lee of attaching cultural and financial significance to the monuments and driving up real estate values. These trends more generally follow the white supremacist vision initially thought of during the days of the Confederacy and after Reconstruction when reunion trumped race. They also continue general residential segregation patterns set and enforced during the Jim Crow era. 

The case study of Monument Avenue, starting with Lee’s statue, demonstrates how much statues can affect not only the spaces they inhabit but also their surrounding areas. In fact, statues can drive cultural, residential, and financial value. The physical presence of a statue often prompts individual emotional responses, but Richmond exemplifies that statues can influence the collective – who lives where, who holds what jobs, and whose voice most strongly shapes the narrative. People draw and deploy different meanings about their regional and national identities through their local monuments; statues can be a sign of urban economic progress, a sign of reasserting cultural power, or something different altogether. In the case of Richmond’s history, the Confederate statues and Monument Avenue demonstrate a continuation of choosing financial reunion and cultural value over racial reconciliation. But in the case of the Lee statue, which saw massive protests over the summer of 2020 and saw graffiti, community gardens and gatherings of protest and celebration in the fall of 2020, some seem to be finally choosing racial reconciliation above all else.


[1] Robert Leon Bacon Letter. American Civil War Museum (1955)“On Monument Avenue,” https://onmonumentave.com/onlineexhibits

[2] For the purposes of this analysis, I am defining the Monument Avenue district through the 2019 census tracts of 404, 405, 406, and 407. Richmond City Department of Planning & Development Review, U.S. Census Bureau’s 2010 Decennial Census, Prepared by ArcGIS StoryMaps. http://www.richmondgov.com/GIS/index.aspx

[3] According to U.S. Census data from 2019, the majority of Richmond’s population was 46.9% Black or African American and 45.5% white residents. “QuickFacts: Richmond city, Virginia.” United States Census Bureau. US Census Bureau, 2019. https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/richmondcityvirginia.

[4] “Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (HOLC) Neighborhood Redlining Grade,” University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab. https://services.arcgis.com/jIL9msH9OI208GCb/arcgis/rest/services/HOLC_Neighborhood_Redlining/FeatureServer

[5] For the purposes of this analysis, I am defining the Monument Avenue district through the 2019 census tracts of 404, 405, 406, and 407. American Community Survey 5 year estimates retrieved from United States Census Bureau. US Census Bureau, 2019. https://data.census.gov/cedsci/table?q=median%20housing%20value&g=0500000US51760.140000&tid=ACSDP5Y2019.DP04&hidePreview=true