Leave it to Michael Paul Williams, award-winning columnist for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, to become the unofficial tourism director for the City of Richmond.
Every couple of months, I find myself at a table in a private room at Morton's the Steakhouse, surrounded by five or six extremely smart people – our words being recorded, live blogged and tweeted. The Evening at Morton's series has tackled sports in Richmond, the city's best neighborhoods and arts and culture. This week, the topic was the Future of Richmond's Past – also known as a discussion about Civil War, racial relations, tourism and politics.
As the conversation began to wind down, Mike (who had been quietly sitting at the "children's table") asked if he could put a question out for the panelists – who had just wound down an energetic discussion about the statues on Monument Avenue.
Why isn't there a statue tour of Richmond, he wondered. The story of Richmond, he continued, can be told through its statues – and not just the ones on Monument Avenue.
He picked up the thread in his column today. It makes for a great read:
The dinner conversation at Morton's about the Future of Richmond's Past turned to the potentially indigestion-inducing topic of Monument Avenue.
Christy Coleman, president and CEO of the American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, said she's often asked what should be done about the avenue's Confederate statues by people who question whether racial reconciliation can take place as long as they stand.
Coleman, who is African-American, told her half-dozen dining companions that the monuments are no impediment that can't be overcome by historical context.
As she put it later, "You don't tear them down. You talk about why they went up."
And that's exactly what we don't do in Richmond.
Now, let's see an organization step forward to install informational plaques that describe the historic context behind each of Richmond's statues.