The departing Confederacy left two sets of monuments in Richmond.
Posted on by Rev. Ben Campbell
The departing Confederacy left two sets of monuments in Richmond. One set you can see — the massive gravestones to a Lost Cause spreading stiffly and silently down the expanse of Monument Avenue. The second set you cannot see. These are the real artifacts of the Confederacy, driven underground and unacknowledged, which continue to control the lives of our citizens.
Our great American Revolution was only a half-revolution in Virginia. Half the population moved into full citizenship; half the population was consigned to a shadowy police state where wages, ownership, citizenship, and even legal marriage were unavailable. The only criterion used to differentiate these groups was race.
The Confederacy declared independence from the United States in order to maintain this dual system of privilege: full citizenship and unprotected slavery.
If Richmond is truly to become the Capital of Reconciliation — redeeming our shame — we would do well to spend our time, energy, and wealth removing these real artifacts of that Confederacy. They perpetuate its spirit; they continue its policies; and they actually continue the half-citizenship of the Confederacy for thousands of our people.
There are at least five major artifacts — representing the Confederacy’s dual system of privilege — which keep the Confederacy alive in modern metropolitan Richmond. Dealing with them is the task of serious people who believe in our nation’s deepest values.
(1) Deteriorated public school buildings.
In 1970, federal courts required the full racial integration of Richmond’s majority-black school system. In 1971, the General Assembly prohibited Richmond from annexing territory and soon thereafter the courts rejected an integrated metropolitan school system.
At that time Richmond was almost completely in debt. The surrounding counties, with little historic debt, could build anything they wanted. Richmond could not afford the annual capital expense necessary to keep current with school construction. Today Richmond Public Schools buildings are severely deteriorated — 45 years of restricted capital borrowing capacity have resulted in $600 million in deferred capital needs.
(2) Distressed public housing projects.
All of the public housing in metro Richmond was included within the circle of the permanent boundary that the General Assembly drew for the city of Richmond in 1971. Prior to that date, the legislature and Richmond leaders had concentrated all of the public projects in the very center and East End of the city.
As the heritage of the Confederacy, Richmond’s poverty is mostly African-American. The federal government’s support of low-income housing developments has diminished significantly since the public housing was built.
The city’s revenue cannot pay for its renewal, and the General Assembly takes no notice. The communities are distressed, isolated, impoverished, and invisible.
(3) Buses that stop at the city line.
Today, metropolitan Richmond occupies approximately 1,200 square miles. But only 62 of those square miles have full-service public transportation. Buses stop at the boundary line of the small, unexpandable center city.
From 1980 to 2000, the federal and state governments spent more than $1.1 billion building a beltway for metro Richmond. But the General Assembly used tax funds in RVA almost solely for highways and excluded the building of a modern public transportation system serving everyone. It gave counties the ability to stop buses at the city line.
Today, only 10 percent of the metropolitan city’s jobs and none of its community colleges are accessible by public transportation. Several hundred thousand citizens, most of them persons of color, are still in the Confederacy, segregated by transportation.
(4) Richmond city jail.
Located just blocks from the notorious private slave jails of the Confederacy, the enormous Richmond city jail is full of men and women who should be somewhere else. The cost of keeping a person in jail or prison in Virginia is estimated variously to be from $50,000 to $150,000 a year.
The unavailable funds needed to make education accessible to inner-city youth in concentrated poverty are about $10,000 a year. But the General Assembly desperately underfunds inner-city schools. Instead it annually condemns city schools for having lower test scores — results which it has guaranteed through discriminatory funding and jurisdictional re-segregation.
Far too many young persons end up in jail, in a state that calls a $201 theft a felony. Disenfranchised, they may live their lives in an enduring, shadowy sub-citizenship, which continues the duality of the Confederacy.
(5) The city of Petersburg.
Once the final bastion of Confederate resistance, Petersburg has become a monument to the Confederate spirit in Virginia’s urban policy. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the General Assembly decided that Petersburg, along with the state’s other historic cities, could no longer expand its boundaries with metropolitan economic growth.
Most of these center cities were home to the impoverished portion of the urban population, largely African-American. Their wealth was being siphoned off into surrounding suburban jurisdictions. Petersburg was particularly vulnerable. The downward economic cycle was completely predictable.
Forty-five years later, Petersburg finally became penniless. The decision had been made by the General Assembly a half-century earlier. Petersburg is the most extreme example of the Confederate urban policy, which has affected all of Virginia’s historic independent cities.
It is far easier even to remove the massive statues on Monument Avenue than it is to deal with the hidden artifacts of the Confederacy in metro Richmond. It may also be one more false victory.
Does removal of statues mean that more or less attention will be paid in the future to the major work that is undone? These are public monuments to the hidden artifacts that still hold our metropolitan city in bondage to the scandal of the Confederacy. The gravestones will be removed, but the buried bodies will continue to haunt us. The national media will shift their attention somewhere else. But the hidden, destructive divisions will remain.
Above all, the Capital of the Confederacy needs to become the Capital of Reconciliation.
The gravestones will be removed, but the buried bodies will continue to haunt us. The national media will shift their attention somewhere else. But the hidden, destructive divisions will remain.
The Rev. Benjamin P. Campbell is pastor emeritus of Richmond Hill, a pastoral associate at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and the author of “Richmond’s Unhealed History.”