"Statue's Path Wasn't Smooth: Debates Focused on Symbolism, Heroes, Justice, Stie, Sculptor," Richmond Times–Dispatch, 8 July 1996
(Copyright Richmond Times-Dispatch, used with permission)
Interest Peaked a Year Ago | City Wouldn't Go for It, Wilder Says | One Statue Doesn't Have a Horse
Family Members Win Out | Sculptor's Work Challenged | Council Gets List of Demands
Interest Peaked a Year Ago
The city had accepted a statue of Ashe as a gift. There had also been an unveiling at the Ashe Center in December 1994, at which DiPasquale's plaster model of the Ashe statue first was shown.
But in June 1995, when the Planning Commission—at the urging of City Manager Robert C. Bobb—chose Monument Avenue at Roseneath Road as the monument's site, the level of public interest peaked.
Many people said that they had nothing against Ashe but that the monument didn't belong of the avenue of such Confederate heroes as Robert E. Lee, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and Jefferson Davis.
DiPasquale said he never had thought of a site on Monument Avenue as he worked on the sculpture. Although he wanted the monument to be on the scale of those on the avenue, he didn't believe it would be put there.
City Wouldn't Go for It, Wilder Says
He said that others, including former Governor L. Douglas Wilder, had told him it belonged on the avenue but that the city would never accept it.
When a committee formed by Virginia Heroes was looking for sites and finally decided the statue should go on Monument Avenue, the members suggested Monument and Kent Road, far removed from the icons of the Confederacy.
In fact, DiPasquale said he and others looking for sites had joked about suggesting the intersection with Roseneath Road as a kind of red herring. That intersection is four blocks east of Kent and is inside the historic district that includes the monuments to the Confederate heroes. Certainly, no one would accept Ashe's monument inside the Civil War's second line of defense, they thought. "That would be the smokescreen so they would give us the site we wanted," he recalled.
Bobb had wanted to put the monument at the northern end of the Boulevard and rename the street for Ashe. When he saw that wasn't going to happen, he started scouting for sites on Monument Avenue.
He said he made many trips up and down the avenue while looking for locations. He didn't like the idea of putting it west of Interstate 195, removed from the other statues.
"The symbolism there would have been the statue was on the back of the bus," Bobb said during a recent interview in his office. "If all the other monuments were in the historic district, why not Ashe?"
In the weeks that followed the Planning Commission's decision, more than 400 people called or wrote City Hall, most of them to complain about the site. The majority said it was inappropriate to put a statue of a tennis player up the street from statues of soldiers on horses.
One Statue Doesn't Have a Horse
Actually, the monument closest to the Ashe statue honors a man who is not on horseback and is usually ignored in the controversy—Matthew Fontaine Maury, a Confederate-era oceanographer known as the "pathfinder of the seas" for mapping the oceans' currents.
One letter writer put her opposition this way: "Arthur Ashe, by most accounts, was a nice boy and a good tennis player. I would stop short of calling him a hero for being nice. A hero by most definitions is one who saves another's life."
She suggested other possible heroes for Monument Avenue, including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Tyler and Woodrow Wilson. "All of these people changed the course of history," she wrote.
Then-Mayor Leonidas B. Young had other ideas for the location of the monument. He suggested Byrd Park or downtown at the site of two abandoned department stores that would be torn down. Young, who is black, called Monument Avenue "a place where it has been perceived only white heroes go."
On the other hand, then-Councilman Chuck Richardson, who is black, said the Ashe Monument would "bring racial justice to Monument Avenue."
Another African-American man who grew up in Richmond said, "If I had seen a black figure [on Monument Avenue], that would have meant more to me than a bunch of horses and a cannon."
A white man said the Ashe monument would destroy the significance of the avenue. "The statues on that street are dedicated to one cause, one single cause," he said.
Finally, the City Council decided to hold a public meeting on the matter.
Articles about the fight made newspapers across the country, including The Boston Globe, The Phoenix Gazette, The New York Times and the Sun-Sentinel of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
On July 17, more than 100 people spoke at the council's public hearing.
Some argued the statue didn't belong on the avenue because Ashe was a tennis player, not a hero. Some said it shouldn't go there because the street should be reserved for Civil War-era figures, and they even suggested a monument to blacks who fought for the Confederacy.
Family Members Win Out
Several African-Americans said the statue shouldn't go on Monument Avenue because Ashe would be dishonored by having his statue so close to the shrines to people who fought for slavery.
Ashe was no fan of Monument Avenue. In Days of Grace, he wrote about "the huge, white First Baptist Church" on the avenue. "That church confirmed its domination and its strict racial identity by its presence on Richmond's Monument Avenue, the avenue of Confederate heroes, with its statues of Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, J. E. B. Stuart, and Robert E. Lee."
In the end, though, Ashe's family members won. Ashe's brother, Johnnie, said the entire family favored the Monument Avenue site.
One speaker said that if the city put a statue of Ashe in Byrd Park, at the tennis courts, the city would be honoring a tennis player. A statue on Monument Avenue would honor the man.
In a recent interview, Johnnie Ashe said the family wanted the Monument Avenue site because the city spends money taking care of the statues there. "Why not put it someplace we know as a family it will be taken care of?"
He also said his brother was more than a tennis player and should be honored as such. "None of them [the Confederates] have made the contributions to our society Arthur has," he said during a telephone interview from his home in Atlanta.
For example, he said, "It was Arthur Ashe, Jr., who brought the system of apartheid in South Africa to light in the United States." That freed millions of people, Johnnie Ashe said. "I don't think any of our Confederate generals could touch that."
The council voted unanimously for Monument Avenue and Roseneath Road. The preservationists, who thought only Confederates belonged on the avenue, had lost.
Those who opposed putting an African-American on the avenue for racial reasons never had the nerve to speak publicly though many called news organizations with anonymous comments.
The historical preservationists, who contend that the avenue should be reserved for Confederates, have lost at every step along the way. They are continuing to fight the monument in court, with one man arguing that placing Ashe on the avenue would harm the local tourism industry.
After the council vote, a whole new group of people began an attack on DiPasquale's monument to Ashe.
Sculptor's Work Challenged
Beverly Reynolds, a local art gallery owner, began circulating a petition asking for an international competition for a monument to Ashe. Her group of like-minded artists, critics, teachers and gallery owners called itself Citizens for Excellence in Public Art.
Reynolds's first official shot was an opinions piece in The Times-Dispatch on Oct. 3. She called DiPasquale's work "of very limited artistic merit." She said, essentially, that it was rammed down the city's throat without any kind of public process or review by art experts.
The group eventually developed a plan to spend about $1 million for an international competition. That idea was rejected by the City Council this year, but not before some acrimonious debate.
The debate reached a crescendo when Moutoussamy-Ashe had an open letter published on the opposite-editorial page in The Times-Dispatch on Jan 1. She reminded everyone that the whole process started when Ashe agreed to support an African-American Sports Hall of Fame in Richmond, and DiPasquale's statue was to be associated with that hall.
Opponents of DiPasquale's monument to Ashe seized on the letter as proof that the statue wasn't meant for Monument Avenue.
The Planning Commission held another meeting on the issue on Jan. 2 and gave Reynolds's group 60 days to come up with a plan to hold an international competition and to pay for it.
Young then negotiated a compromise. He and [long-time Ashe friend Richard] Chewning had scheduled a flight to New York to discuss matters with Moutoussamy-Ashe, but the airport was snowed in. Instead, they talked at length with her on the phone.
Council Gets List of Demands
Provisions were that the DiPasquale monument would be placed on Monument Avenue until a new Ashe monument was chosen through an international competition. Then, the DiPasquale monument would be moved to an African-American Sports Hall of Fame, to be built somewhere in the city.
Citizens for Excellence in Public Art didn't like that plan. Members felt that if the hall of fame were never built—considered by many as a distinct possibility, given its $20-million price tag—DiPasquale's monument never would be moved.
The group eventually came up with a $1-million plan, with nearly $100,000 of the money going to fund various community meetings and other projects designed to involve city residents in picking the art.
Everything was going along well until March 25, when Citizens for Public Art presented a list of demands to the City Council. Council members scolded the group for having only one African-American among its members, and Young lectured the group's representatives on racial sensitivity.
Council rejected CEPA's plan. With that vote, the last viable obstacle to the monument was removed.
(Copyright Richmond Times-Dispatch, used with permission)
Back to Sketch of Arthur Ashe, by Paul DiPasquale, 1993