Confederate capital debates black heritage


RICHMOND, Va. -- Driving along Monument Avenue, past the massive stone statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate warriors, Charles Chambliss said in disgust, "Somehow the Confederacy made the losers look honorable."

In recent weeks, a downtown mural of Lee has been set on fire and his reputation defended in a dispute over how history should be marked here in the capital of the Old Confederacy.

It's a fight that heritage groups say embodies a resolve by civil rights leaders to rid the South of Confederate symbols.

But here in Richmond, a bastion of Confederate relics and remembrances, a growing chorus, including Mayor Timothy Kaine, says it's time for the majority black city to honor African-Americans.

"Not one more dime should be spent on another Confederate rendering until African-American personalities and heroes are included in some kind of plan to accurately and fairly present history on public property," Chambliss said.

In 1978, Chambliss, 52, fought on behalf of erecting a statue on Monument Avenue honoring Richmond native and African-American tennis great Arthur Ashe. It was raised in 1996, despite protests by heritage groups that the stately boulevard was hollowed ground of the Confederacy.

Now Chambliss is chairman of the city's ad hoc historical interpretation committee created by the City Council. The panel hopes its second meeting, on March 23, will not resemble the fight last month over the renaming of two city bridges in honor of Richmond civil rights leaders.

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