Originally published September 8, 2019, to the Virginia Defender Facebook page, and later run in a shortened form as a photo update in the Autumn 2019 edition of the paper, published October 28. To download a PDF of that issue, see the Full Issues page.
By Phil Wilayto
Nearly 40 anti-racist activists – Black, Latinx, Asian and white – gathered today in Richmond for a demonstration outside the national headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Their lead banner boldly proclaimed the reason for the protest: “UDC: Celebrating 125 Years of Racist Lies!”
The UDC, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this weekend in Nashville, Tenn., is the organization most responsible for the creation of hundreds of Confederate monuments in some three dozen states around the country, including the massive tribute to Confederate President Jefferson Davis that stands at the intersection of North Davis and Monument avenues in Richmond.
Today the organization plays a leading role in opposing efforts to take down those monuments to white supremacy, and has carried out a decades-long campaign pressuring local school boards to reject history books explaining that slavery was the cause of the Civil War.
It also continues to promote the myth that the South only lost the war because the North had superior numbers and material resources. In reality, the real reasons for the Confederate collapse was the self-emancipation of hundreds of thousands of enslaved Black people, which deprived the South of the captive workforce it depended on for its existence, and the fact that some 200,000 of these formerly enslaved workers joined the Union army and navy, which became the major factor in turning the war in the Union’s favor.
The first three speakers at today’s protest were Jelane Schmidt, a professor at the University of Virginia, public historian and a leader in Charlottesville’s Black Lives Matter; Heather Redding, a leader in the North Carolina movement to take down Confederate statues in that state; and Ayame, a leader in the Richmond chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
The mic was then opened to anyone who wanted to speak. Those included Jihad Abdulmumit, chairperson of the National Jericho Movement, which supports political prisoners; Dieyah Rasheed, a member of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality and a former member of the Richmond chapter of the Black Panther Party; and Chuck Richardson, who served 18 years on Richmond City Council and now is running again for the council’s 5th District seat.
Today’s protest, organized by DSA-Richmond and the Virginia Defenders, was the first coordinated regional effort by anti-monument activists in Charlottesville, site of the deadly August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally; North Carolina, where many armed white supremacist groups are active; and Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy and the city with perhaps the largest number of Confederate memorials.
At a post-protest potluck dinner, activists pledged to continue working together and to support each others’ efforts in the region.
Note: In a sign of the changing times, the street where the UDC headquarters is located recently has been renamed from simply “The Boulevard” to honor Richmond’s famous native son who excelled both in the tennis world and in opposing South Africa’s system of apartheid.
The UDC offices are now located at 328 North Arthur Ashe Boulevard.