On Monument Avenue in Richmond, the collection of towering statues in honor of the Confederate veterans was interrupted by a distinctly different one: a memorial to the legend of black tennis and civil rights activist Arthur Ashe.
The Ashe statue appeared to be safe from deface during the recent protests against racism and police brutality, when protesters covered the Confederate statues with graffiti and tore down a statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States during the civil war.
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But after someone painted Ashe’s statue “White Lives Matter”, city officials considered asking Ashe̵
“It will not be abolished,” said David Harris Jr.
Harris said he contacted Mayor Levar Stoney’s office last month to dismantle the statue until the riots in Richmond calmed down.
Harris said the request was an “emergency plan” only during the culmination of protests against the police assassination of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, when the police and demonstrators were almost at night clashes, and the Ashe family feared that the statue would be damaged or someone would try to overthrow it.
“We just considered it at the height of the protest, so that when credible threats came through, Mayor Stoney had the leeway to do so without being pushed back by us when he felt the need to dismantle it,” Harris said.
Stoney spokesman Jim Nolan said on Friday that the mayor would “listen to the family” and not remove the statue.
On July 1, Stoney ordered the immediate removal of all city-owned confederate statues in Richmond, a former capital of the Confederation. Stoney called on his emergency powers and pointed to the ongoing unrest and concerns that protesters would be injured if they tried to tear down the giant statues themselves.
The only Confederate statue that remains on Monument Avenue is a memorial to General Robert E. Lee that is on state property. Governor Ralph Northam ordered the removal of this statue last month, but it was at least temporarily blocked by a lawsuit.
Harris said he believed that his uncle’s statue “represents everything that people are working for”.
Ashe, a native of Richmond, was denied access to tennis courts as a child due to segregation. He became the first black player to be selected for the US Davis Cup team and was the only black man to ever win the singles title at the US Open, Wimbledon and Australian Open. He was also known for his work to promote education and civil rights, to fight apartheid in South Africa and to raise awareness of AIDS, the disease that finally killed him in 1993.
Ashe’s statue was erected in 1996, but only after heated debates.
“If we want to put up a statue of someone, let’s put up a statue of someone who stands for equality, stands for education, all the things my uncle thought was true,” said Harris.