Reclaiming Our Sacred Ground


Originally published in the Winter 2020 edition of the Virginia Defender, issue 61, printed February 17. Reproduced here in for accessibility and archival purposes. To find other stories in the Winter 2020 issue or to download the full PDF, see this post. For the full web catalog, see our Full Issues page.

This apparent vandalism to the Reconciliation Statue site went unaddressed for more than a week, until the Defenders brought it to the City’s attention. Photo by Phil Wilayto.

By Phil Wilayto

A few days after the massive Jan. 20 gun rights rally at Capitol Square, I heard there had been some vandalism around the Reconciliation Statue, the anti-slavery memorial at the northwest corner of 15th and East Main streets in downtown Richmond.

This reportedly happened on the day of the rally. The damage was to two of the site’s three wooden benches, which look like large railroad ties. It appeared that someone had repeatedly kicked or struck the benches, spreading debris on the ground.

A week later, not only had the damage not been repaired, but the debris was still lying next to the benches.

On Jan. 29, I called the Richmond Police Department to ask if an investigation had been opened. I was told the site was actually state property, and was referred to the Virginia Department of General Services.

When I called the DGS, I was told the site belonged to the city.

I then called 6th District Councilmember Ellen Robertson. The site used to be in her district, but the district lines were changed a few years ago and the site is now in the 7th.

Ms. Robertson said she was not aware of the situation, but said she would ask the Department of Public Works to look into it.

I also emailed Delegate Delores McQuinn, chair of the city’s Slave Trail Commission, which put up the Reconciliation Statue in 2007, and Sharon North, communications person for the DPW, to alert them to the situation.

Neither responded to the emails.

That evening, Ana Edwards and I stopped by the site again, about 10 p.m. The damaged benches were still there, but the debris had been cleaned up.

As of Feb. 28 – five weeks after the initial damage – the two benches had still not been replaced or repaired.

So one problem is that, at least one week after the damage, no city or state department had cleaned up the site, repaired the damage or begun an investigation into the apparent vandalism. And then another month went by with no repairs. But what seems worse is the fact that there has been no public outcry over the desecration of this site or the failure of city or state government to address it. The police told me they had received just one other call about the damage to the benches.

If Richmond is going to reclaim and properly memorialize its sacred sites, all of us will have to start paying a lot more attention.

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