The idea of Grace Park developed as a result of my commute that goes three-quarters of the way around the Lee Monument, north on Allen and right on Broad. Richmond has dealt with the “monuments problem” over the years by adding monuments, adding context, adding diversity. The idea to create an unassuming little park that runs along the median strip on Allen Avenue and tells the rest of our story continues that tradition. The blocks between Monument and Broad are already a city park — Grace Park.
May Grace Now Lead Them Home
When the words are sung, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” recall that the “wretch” who wrote those words was John Newton, repentant slave trader, later ordained minister in the Church of England. It’s the line from the third stanza — “‘Tis Grace has brought me safe thus far ~ And Grace will lead me home” — that creates the image of little monuments, generation after generation, walking in their time, to their shared future. With the hope that grace would lead them home.
Grace. Amazing Grace. If you really want to know the truth, we had no idea that the Allen Avenue median strip between Monument and Broad was already a city park — Grace Park. That single, simple word gave us our theme, our compass. Grace. It fits perfectly. In each of the above definitions. Grace. What we need. What we need to give. What we need to accept. Amazing Grace.
The American Civil War began in Charleston harbor on April 12, 1861. More than 150 years later, on July 12, 2015, “… the Confederate battle flag – a powerful symbol of slavery and the Old South that has roiled emotions in South Carolina for decades – was removed from the Statehouse grounds … in a brief ceremony observed by thousands kept at a distance behind metal barriers.” (source: USA Today, “South Carolina takes down Confederate flag”)
The movement to remove the flag from the South Carolina statehouse grounds began on the horrific night of June 17, 2015, when nine members of Emanuel AME Church were murdered. When President Barack Obama eulogized the victims, he used the word grace — “Clementa Pinckney found that grace” — to remember each victim. The president led the mourners as they sang “Amazing Grace” and he quoted a line from the hymn: “May grace now lead them home.”
The lives portrayed in the Little Monuments found that grace. As they walk, generation after generation, often denied their due in life, may grace now lead them home.
Little Monuments in Grace Park
Close your eyes and see the generations of Virginians who have walked from the 17th Century to today. Walk with them, each in their time, you walk on, leaving their lives behind as history, to meet a new generation and to understand their struggles. They are little monuments now; frozen in time as we walk on. From living flesh to monuments.
In the Allen Avenue median strip, between Park Avenue and Broad Street, we propose creating an expanded “Grace Park” that will include Little Monuments that tell a more complete and diverse story of Virginia than that offered by the intersecting Monument Avenue. The approachable, life size monuments are integrated into the existing landscape; a place to meander, think, read, contemplate. An inviting place.