Richmond’s Monument Avenue must be for everyone
Confederate statues were intended to spin a sanitized story about slavery
I live on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, but Monument Avenue wasn’t meant for me.
My grandmother was born in this city and so was my father, when Jim Crow was king. Reminded of the laws and customs of his youth, my father recounted his personal acts of protest. When working, he wouldn’t enter homes in the tonier sections of the city through the back door, nor would he stand in the “colored only” lines to pick up lunch. “I understood the rules,” he told me. “I just didn’t internalize them.” To do so would have meant embracing a caricature of himself crafted by those who couldn’t imagine him as five-fifths of a person.
I was born in 1964, the year Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. My parents brought me home to the house they purchased in a part of the city newly available to African Americans. They saved and sacrificed for my opportunities, including an assumption about college and graduate school that never was up for discussion.
[A] playmate announced our games were over because I was ‘dirty and black’
My own experience carries the imprint both of white supremacy and the efforts to overcome it. My earliest years at a segregated school built on a landfill that once leaked lethal gas; the morning a playmate announced our games were over because I was “dirty and black”; the instructions my father told me to follow should the police ever stop me; the racist “Old South” parties at my college; the work events with accompanying questions about tanning and hair; the surprise when your work product is excellent. The whole ecosystem could have picked apart my soul and confidence, but I looked to my parents’ example and had my dad’s words to live by, “Don’t internalize, Melody, don’t internalize.”