Sunday, February 21, 2016

Best Place for a Walker Monument?

Sure, I can understand the sentiments that would place a Maggie L. Walker (1864-1934) monument in the heart of Jackson Ward, or on its fringe. Then again, maybe other locations should be considered, as well, before settling on one treatment.

After all, public art-wise, planning to erect some sort of appropriate and permanent remembrance of Maggie Walker in Richmond, Virginia ought to happen as soon as it can be done.

Done right.

So I hope a committee of interested parties with community leaders, art experts, etc., will form and make some recommendations. Maybe VCU could help with the process. In any event, I hope there will be plenty of public discussion. Choosing the right artist/designer will be essential.

By the way, I'd rather see the Walker Monument on Monument Avenue. Let's think bigger than something modest in a public park. As a significant figure from Richmond's history, who would be better than Walker to add to Monument Avenue?

Her credentials are second to none. Plus, I see hope that some Richmonders would see a step being taken toward atonement in such an installation. Its unveiling would create a news story that would draw international notice. Meanwhile, here's a quote from an OpEd piece I wrote for the Richmond Times-Dispatch last summer, which, among other things, suggests just such a new monument.
“... Add signage around the monuments to put them in a context, which would turn Monument Avenue into a museum of sorts. Add more monuments to the stately avenue, statues of Virginians who we now want to celebrate; maybe less emphasis on war. Two of the first names for new monuments that come to mind for me are Maggie Walker and Lewis Powell.”
The RT-D piece also suggests the removal of one of the existing monuments in the row of Confederate luminaries. That's another, but related, matter. To read the entire piece, click here. 

Furthermore, I don't see the value of removing a cherished old tree from its little triangular plot of natural land at the intersection of Adams, Brook and Broad St. in the Arts District, in order to stuff a statue into its place and perhaps dampen some of the charm of that neighborhood.

So when I happened upon a demonstration there yesterday (Feb. 20, 2016), a gathering of citizens calling for saving that same tree, well, it put a smile on my face. As it was a pleasant afternoon, I stopped to take a few pictures and talk with a couple of the demonstrators.

Jennie Dotts, a well known local preservationist, put the purpose of the demonstration in a nutshell: “Save the tree and save historic Brook Road – the oldest turnpike in Richmond.”  

Please note: Having grown up in Richmond, I know there are still some folks in our midst who would surely rather see any sort of Walker Monument in what they would view as a more appropriate neighborhood than Monument Avenue.

Which, to me, is all the more reason for us to think more deeply about the atonement angle of this story. 

-- Words and photos by F.T. Rea

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