Little Monuments in Grace Park

Welcome to the Little Monuments in Grace Park, Richmond, Virginia

As long as our lives endure, may grace now lead them home.
May God continue to shed His grace on the United States of America.

Grace Park
Click for larger map of Grace Park.

We begin our journey 400 years ago at the south end of N. Allen Avenue at Park Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Six blocks hence, at Broad Street, we will have walked the span of Virginia History. We will walk with the people who created our history and insofar as possible (with both the advantages and disadvantages of historical perspective), we need to understand their lives, their motivations and their actions as they themselves understood them. Reach for that understanding. Mindful that understanding is neither acceptance nor rejection, praise nor condemnation. It is understanding. It might grow into empathy, even sympathy. As we cannot see the consequences of our own actions over the expanse of time and future generations neither could these our fellow Virginians.  They did not live in history any more than do we. They lived their todays. They were women and men with strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes their better angels soared. Sometimes they fell far short. They ~ like us ~ walk imperfectly forward.

We walk with the figures of history toward the future. We approach each “little monument” from behind, stand with it for its moment in time, listen to his or her story, and move forward in time. There are 25 “little monuments” leading us through 400 years of Virginia History. These “little monuments” are life sized, eye level, simple, understated, integrated into the existing median strip landscape. As each is approached, audio(1) describing the events of that day begins to play. The Radio Players of Firehouse Theatre(2) tell the stories of each period — told by individuals, an amalgamation of personal historic accounts and personal stories whenever possible. Like a Ken Burns’ film, an individual’s voice telling the nation’s story.

(1) Resisting for the moment, holograms.
(2) Just around the corner from Grace Park on Broad Street

Grace Park is the Allen Avenue median strip between Monument Avenue and Broad Street. In this design, we’ve added the median south of Monument to Park so that Grace Park runs six blocks — 3 two-block areas — from Park Avenue to Broad Street, from the 17th Century to the 21st.

We begin our walk through Virginia history at Park and Allen,

Grace Park South ~ (Park to Monument)

Jamestown Founded
Little Monument:
John Smith & Chief Powhatan
Slaves arrive @ Jamestown Two men, one chained, one carrying a musket
Founding Fathers & Slave Owners Statue of Geo. Washington with his slave
Slave Rebellions Slave with club drawn back over shoulder
Virginia Slavery Debate Legislator holding a law book
Underground Railroad Henry “Box” Brown in a 2’x3’x3′ crate

Founded on May 4, 1607, Jamestown Colony was the first permanent English settlement in the New World. If memory serves that’s almost verbatim from my 7th grade Virginia History book. Our first Little Monument begins our story with the meeting of the Native population and the English immigrants.

A dozen years later, the first Africans — described by John Rolfe as “20 and odd Negroes” — were brought to the New World in chains as slaves. Our second Little Monument begins the description of “the peculiar institution” that defined and haunted the American experiment from its earliest day.  (see also “The History of Slavery in Virginia.”)

Little Monument 3 defines slavery as so enshrined in the law of the Commonwealth that seven of eight Virginia Presidents owned slaves (Wilson, obviously, not). In total, Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Harrison, Tyler and Taylor owned more than 800 humans. (see also “Presidents Who Owned Slaves”). While serving as President in Philadelphia, Washington complied with Pennsylvania’s “Gradual Abolition Act of 1780” by moving his slaves between the capital and Mount Vernon every six months to avoid automatic emancipation. (see also “George Washington, Slave Catcher)

Little Monument 4 — “During the 19th century, there were two major attempted slave revolts in Virginia: Gabriel’s Rebellion in 1800 and Nat Turner’s slave rebellion in 1831. As a result, the Virginia legislature ended the ability of slaveholders to independently free their slaves and required each manumission to be approved by an act of the legislature. In addition, it passed laws that restricted rights of free people of color, prohibiting them from bearing arms and reducing gathering in groups.” (source: Wikipedia)

Little Monument 5 — “The Virginia slavery debate occurred in the House of Delegates during its 1831–1832 session and was prompted by a slave insurrection in August 1831 led by Nat Turner. In the months that followed, about forty petitions, signed by more than 2,000 Virginians, urged the General Assembly to engage the problems associated with slavery. […]  January 25, 1832 – The House of Delegates votes not to legislate on emancipation, deeming “that a further action for the removal of the slaves should await a more definite development of public opinion.” (source: Encyclopedia Virginia, “The Virginia Slavery Debate of 1831-32)

Little Monument 6 tells the story of the underground railroad and other methods of escape to the north including the 1849 story of Virginia’s own Henry “Box” Brown. A slave in Richmond, Brown managed to have himself shipped north in a 2 x 3 foot crate after his wife, owned by a different master and pregnant with their fourth child, was sold away to North Carolina, along with their three children. (see also “Fugitive Slave Laws).

Robert E. Lee Memorial ~ (Lee Circle)

Virginia secedes from Union Two flag poles. US flag 2/3 down, CSA flag 1/3 from top (not the battle flag)
Evacuation of Richmond Woman running, carrying child, looking back over shoulder
( Lee Monument  )
Lee Surrenders Table, pens, paper, inkwell, hat. Two swords rest against table.
13th, 14th & 15th Amendments XIII, XIV, XV as Pillars

Lee Circle is the centerpiece of Monument Avenue. There are a myriad of philosophical, generational, political, historical, racial and cultural underpinnings associated with the avenue that comedian Robin Williams labeled “the world’s largest collection of second-place trophies.” Representations of honor, heritage, Southern nobility. Representations of treason, slavery, generations of oppression. And that, my friends, begins to scratch the surface of the emotions surrounded The Monuments.

This is the circle where east-west Monument Avenue intersects with north-south Grace Park. Adding content to the singular view of The Avenue, we suggest adding four Grace Park little monuments; two south, two north of the General. These four are in keeping with the factual history of the war and it’s aftermath.

As we walk from Grace Park South, from the 1700’s into the 1800’s, Little Monument 7 is two flag poles with the U.S. flag being lowered on one pole and the C.S.A. flag being raised on another.

Little Monument 8 displays the burning and evacuation of Richmond with the universal symbol of a woman protecting a babe in arms, a child clinging to her skirt, fleeing the horror of war.

On the north side of General Lee’s statue, the table Little Monument 9 from Appomattox Courthouse. At last, swords are at rest against the table.

Little Monument 10 is Roman Numerals XIII, XIV and XV as Pillars (literary and figuratively) — the Constitutional Amendments abolishing slavery, defining citizenship and guaranteeing the right to vote.

Grace Park Central ~ (Monument to Grace)

Military District No. 1 ends Table, carpetbag, newspaper headline “Occupation Ends!”
The death of Robert E. Lee.
Birth of “The Lost Cause.”
Alter with cap, sword, pistol, textbook with title “The Lost Cause”
KKK march on Grace Street Two figures marching in parade wearing hoods & robes
Maggie Walker Bank teller cage, kid stretching to reach …
Bill “Bojangles” Robinson Tap shoes hung across his shoulder.
Robert E. Lee Camp Confederate Soldiers’ Home closed. Pappy sitting on the porch with Harold
(explanation note to follow)

Little Monument 11 represents the end of the military occupation of Virginia by Federal troops. President Lincoln’s “with malice toward none and charity toward all” fell on deaf ears in the U.S. Congress. It is important to recognize how this treatment affected the Virginians of the day. For the generation that lived in “Military District No. 1,” those days became the lessons of history they taught to their children and grandchildren.

Little Monument 12 represents the same year, 1870, in which Robert E. Lee died. It may be argued that the two events created “The Lost Cause” — the reasoning of that generation, explaining themselves to history, and the effect on generations to come. 

Little Monuments 13 & 14 are an homage to the generation of African-American Virginians that created the “Harlem of the South” in Richmond’s Jackson Ward. Maggie Walker and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson are but two examples of incredible spirit and determination. (see also Wikipedia, “Jackson Ward”)

In the same years, between the world wars, the Klu Klux Klan marched down Grace Street (Little Monument 15) in full robe and hood regalia. Perhaps to this very spot. Perhaps to a rally at the Lee Monument. The older men in the crowd may well have fought under Lee’s command.

Little Monument 16 represents a day in 1941 when — upon the death of the last Confederate veteran in residence — the Robert E. Lee Camp, Confederate Soldiers Home closed.(3) A united America needed to fight another war.

(3) Can you imagine any place keeping its doors open to the last patient these days!? Obviously, there were motivations in their work well beyond profit. By the way, the “Old Soldiers’ Home” was located at Grove Avenue and the Boulevard, the current location of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Grace Park North ~ (Grace to Broad)

Prince Edward Schools closed in “massive resistance” Schoolroom, flag in corner, ABC’s over blackboard,
Empty school desks.
Richmond 34 Lunch counter, students on stools in handcuffs
Jim Crow “White Only” “Colored Only” signs
Loving vs. Virginia Bride & Groom. Include quote: “Tell the court I love my wife.”
White flight, Jackson Ward cut in half Real Estate “Sold — Moved to Suburbia” signs
Bradley vs. Richmond School Board School desk with books, school bus seen through window
Wilder elected governor Campaign signs, flag bunting, hats and confetti
Leland D. Melvin Astronaut holding helmet, foot propped up on stone …
400 years ago today,
slaves were first brought to Virginia.
Plaque, dedication stone. Amazing Grace.

Walking into Grace Park North, we enter a new era in Virginia History. An era of great promise and great pain. Change and struggle. Haunted by the past, the ghosts of war and slavery, carrying the promise and the burdens of parents and grandparents into a new, post-WWII era.

Little Monument 17 represents the “Massive Resistance” that Virginia offered in response to Court-ordered desegregation of public schools. Prince Edward County lead the way, preferring to close the school system rather than permitting little white children to sit in the same classroom with little black children; denying a public education to all children. “When, on January 19, 1959, both a federal and a state court simultaneously ruled the state’s actions unconstitutional, the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors closed its public schools rather than integrate them. They stayed shuttered for five years. Another U.S. Supreme Court decision—Griffin v. County School Board of Prince Edward—finally forced the county’s schools to reopen in 1964.” (source: Encyclopedia Virginia, “Massive Resistance”)

Little Monument 18 — On the morning of February 22, 1960, a group of 34 Virginia Union students was arrested for sitting at the “whites only” lunch counter at Thalhimers Department Store. When the students were asked to leave and refused to do so, they were arrested and charged with trespassing. (see also Wikipedia “Richmond 34”)

Little Monument 19 is a collection of the wide variety of Jim Crow signs, notices and warnings used to enforce legal segregation in both private businesses and public accommodations. “In Virginia following the civil war, African Americans struggled to assert their independence and make freedom meaningful. Returning to power in the fall elections of 1865, white leaders enacted a series of laws known collectively as ‘black codes.’ These laws, which made a crime of vagrancy and turned such misdemeanors as petty theft into felonies, were designed mainly to ensure the availability of black labor. Black codes were enacted throughout the South.” (source: “Virginia Historical Society, “Jim Crow to Civil Rights in Virginia”)

Little Monument 20 represents Loving vs. Virginia (made popular by the movie of the same name). A bride and groom with the simple, best, only argument : “Tell the Court I love my wife.” “The case was brought by Mildred Loving (née Jeter), a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, who had been sentenced to a year in prison in Virginia for marrying each other.” (source: Wikipedia, “Loving v Virginia”)

Little Monument 21 represents “white flight.” One very good example of how government, society, land values, political strength, on and on, combined to build the new interstate highway on a path that would cut Jackson Ward (“The Harlem of the South”) into two separate pieces.

Little Monument 22 is the so-called “Judge Merhige decision” which ordered busing as a remedy for “white flight” from Virginia cities to counties (separate political entities, mistake by founder fathers). Many Virginians today carry a great deal of resentment having been personally mistreated; used to correct a social problem they didn’t create. (see also Virginia Historical Society, “School Busing”)

Little Monument 24 represents L. Douglas Wilder elected 66th Governor of Virginia, becoming the first African-American ever elected governor in the United States. Include Oliver Hill, other prominent figures in political, legal, civil rights struggle.

As the final little monument, Little Monument 25 looks to the future, both literally and figuratively, in the image of Leland Melvin, Virginian and astronaut. Helmet in hand, his foot propped on the stone noting the Rededication of Grace Park, August 20, 2019 (the 400th anniversary of the “20 and odd” slaves arrival in Jamestown, Virginia).

The audio will conclude with the words inscribed on the Grace Park rededication stone:

As long as our lives endure
May grace now lead them home
May God continue to shed His grace
On the United States of America.

Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound    That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found    Was blind but now I see

NEXT: Network of Learning & Sharing


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