Monument Avenue and the Lost Cause

A conversation on Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia, July, 2021

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Monument Avenue

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Key points

  • Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, is the original site of six bronze sculptures honoring famous individuals from American history. Five of the sculptures represent high-ranking members of the Confederacy from the United States Civil War and, as of October of 2021, have all been removed from their pedestals. The sixth and most recent sculpture, of tennis legend and civil rights activist Arthur Ashe, remains on display.
  • Considered in its entirety, the group of five Confederate monuments serves as a testament to the “lost cause” mythology, which emerged in the years following the end of the Civil War. The myth perpetuates the falsehood that the war was fought to defend the Southern states’ rights instead of the institution of slavery, heroizes the efforts of Confederate soldiers and leaders, and celebrates the white supremacist reversal of gains made by African Americans during Reconstruction (1865–1877). The more recent removal of Confederate sculptures across the American South, including these five, is seen as a referendum on this “lost cause” narrative.
  • The creation of Monument Avenue is an example of the City Beautiful Movement, which promoted a greater emphasis on aesthetics and order in the design of the built environment in cities across the United States beginning in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Go deeper

The Lost Cause, entry from Encyclopedia Virginia

Sarah Beetham, Ph.D, “From Spray Cans to Minivans: Contesting the Legacy of Confederate Soldier Monuments in the Era of “Black Lives Matter,” Public Art Dialogue 6, no. 1 (2016): pp. 9–33

Confederate Monuments and the Black Lives Matter Movement: Interview with Sarah Beetham, Ph.D., Public Art Dialogue 7, no. 2 (2015)

Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War on Smarthistory

Confederate Monument Interpretation Guide (Atlanta History Center: 2016)

Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy (Southern Poverty Law Center: 2019)

“The Neutral Ground” (PBS POV documentary: July 2021)

More to think about

In the 1990s, when the Arthur Ashe sculpture was created, there was much debate about whether or not it belonged on Monument Avenue. What is your opinion and why?

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