The monument to Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, after 2020 racial justice protests. Photo by Robert P. Jones
(RNS) — The last Confederate monument still standing on Richmond, Virginia’s Monument Avenue, the massive tribute to General Robert E. Lee, was removed on Wednesday (Sept. 8).
A 21-foot bronze sculpture mounted on a massive 40-foot pedestal, it was primarily funded and conceived by the Ladies’ Lee Monument Committee, a predecessor to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which has its headquarters in Richmond to this day. The statue’s dedication on May 29, 1890, was accompanied by three days of events (including a choral performance by the Young Men’s Christian Association) that drew an estimated 100,000 people.
Beside the statue, special stands were constructed to contain hundreds of white children wearing red, white and blue who were arranged to create a living Confederate battle flag.
The title of the Richmond Times editorial that week captured how the city’s white residents understood the meaning of this new landmark: “Conquered Though Not Vanquished.” As historian Karen Cox summarized it, “This was not just a monument to the region’s most cherished hero; it was about the restoration of Confederate men’s honor.”
It was also a declaration of a war on the terrain of culture and politics as Virginia, like many Southern states, threw off the reforms of Reconstruction and set up legal and cultural systems of segregation and the suppression of voting by African Americans.
The Lee monument was the down payment by the city’s white elite on a multidecade effort to create the broad leafy outdoor corridor that would eventually be punctuated by five traffic circles, each containing a massive monument to the Confederacy.
Between 1890 and 1930, the wealthier white residents not only moved their homes but also rebuilt at least seven of their churches out along Monument Avenue in the shadow of these monuments. The architectural interplay between monuments dedicated to the Confederacy and sanctuaries dedicated to God performatively expressed the motto emblazoned on the five-story column behind the statue of Jefferson Davis: “God will vindicate.”
Over the past few years, I’ve spent several weeks in Richmond, conducting research in the archives of the UDC for my book “White Too Long” and tracking the unfolding drama as the city and its churches are attempting to extricate themselves from the Lost Cause narrative and create a new story that looks to the future, rather than the past. The juxtapositions, and contradictions, can be jarring.
When I first visited in July 2019, the city had just renamed one of its central streets — one that historically fronted the national headquarters of the UDC along with “Battle Abbey,” originally built to hold Confederate reliquary and now the Virginia Museum of History & Culture — after native son and international tennis star Arthur Ashe Jr.
As a youth, Ashe had been banned from playing tennis on Richmond’s public courts because of his race. As an adult, he dedicated his life off the court to international civil rights work, philanthropy and scholarship.
Monument to tennis star Arthur Ashe Jr. along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Robert P. Jones
That summer, the VMHC had hung large banners of Ashe outside the building, and there were images of him on large placards along the sidewalk. Just 30 feet or so down the sidewalk in front of the UDC building, half a dozen pro-Confederate protesters had hoisted large Confederate battle flags on makeshift poles over placards that read, “Save our monuments.”
When the UDC archivist handed me her business card, it had already been updated to show their location on “Arthur Ashe Boulevard.”
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Richmond’s residents have called on Ashe to oppose Confederate forces in Richmond. In 1996, three years after his untimely death, the city placed a memorial to Ashe on Monument Avenue. The 12-foot-tall statue, resting on a 21-foot pedestal, sits on a traffic circle just beyond the last of five Confederate monuments along the venue. About 500 people attended the unveiling of the monument, with some holding up Confederate flags in protest.
Monument to tennis star Arthur Ashe Jr. along Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. Photo by Robert P. Jones
When I visited in 2019, I was struck by how diminutive Ashe seemed in the context of Monument Avenue. His likeness, anchoring one end of the avenue, was roughly half the size of the Lee, Davis and Jackson monuments nearer the city center. But when I revisited this past summer, the statue of Ashe, with a book held high in his right hand and a tennis racket slightly lower in his left (a pose explicitly requested by Ashe himself to emphasize the importance of education) loomed larger.
Four of the five Confederate statues were removed by the city in response to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. The statue of Lee had been covered with graffiti that transformed it into an internationally recognized site of performance art for racial justice.
For the first time in 130 years, a trip down Richmond’s Monument Avenue will not entail an involuntary Lost Cause pilgrimage. Rather — and this is the surprisingly moving experience I had biking down that street this past July — the empty pedestals will stand as silent indicting witnesses to the past valorization of white supremacy by a city’s white leaders and churches.
The monument to Arthur Ashe Jr. prominently incorporates a biblical inscription from the New Testament’s Letter to the Hebrews on the front of its pedestal: “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”
I don’t know everything Ashe and his family had in mind with that selection, but today it seems fitting for the last man standing on Monument Avenue.
(Robert P. Jones is the CEO and founder of PRRI and the author of ” White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.” This article was originally published on Jones’ Substack #WhiteTooLong. Read more at robertpjones.substack.com. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)
The Rev. Luke Nguyen, right, celebrates Mass in a flood damaged parking lot in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Jean Lafitte, La. The service was held in a parking lot after St. Anthony Catholic Church was flooded in the hurricane. (AP Photo/John Locher)
MARRERO, La. (AP) — Amid the devastation caused by Hurricane Ida, there was at least one bright light Sunday: Parishioners found that electricity had been restored to their church outside of New Orleans, a small improvement as residents of Louisiana struggle to regain some aspects of normal life.
In Jefferson Parish, the Rev. G. Amaldoss expected to celebrate Mass at St. Joachim Catholic Church in the parking lot, which was dotted with downed limbs. But when he swung open the doors of the church early Sunday, the sanctuary was bathed in light. That made an indoor service possible.
“Divine intervention,” Amaldoss said, pressing his hands together and looking toward the sky.
A week after Hurricane Ida struck, many in Louisiana continue to face food, water and gas shortages as well as power outages while battling heat and humidity. The storm was blamed for at least 17 deaths in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
On Sunday, state health officials announced that the death toll in Louisiana has climbed to 13, including a 74-year-old man who died of heat during an extensive power outage. In the Northeast, Ida’s remnants dumped record-breaking rain and killed at least 50 people from Virginia to Connecticut.
As Mass began Sunday, Amaldoss walked down the aisle of the church in his green robe, with just eight people spread among the pews. Instead, the seats brimmed with boxes of donated toothpaste, shampoo and canned vegetables.
“For all the people whose lives are saved and all the people whose lives are lost, we pray for them,” he said. “Remember the brothers and sisters driven by the wind and the water.”
Through the wall of windows behind the altar, beyond the swamp abutting the church, the floodgates that saved the building could be seen. The Gospel was the story of Jesus bringing sight to a blind man, and throughout the tiny church, stories of miracles were repeated.
Wynonia Lazaro gave thanks for newly restored power in her home, where the only casualties of Ida were some downed trees and loosened shingles.
“We are extremely blessed,” she said.
Some parishioners suffered total losses of their homes, or devastating damage. Gina Caulfield, a 64-year-old retired teacher, has been hopping from relative to relative after her cousin’s trailer, where she’d been living, was left uninhabitable. Still, she was grateful to have survived the storm.
“It’s a comfort to know we have people praying for us,” she said.
Some parishes outside New Orleans were battered for hours by winds of 100 mph (160 kph) or more, and Ida damaged or destroyed more than 22,000 power poles, more than hurricanes Katrina, Zeta and Delta combined.
More than 630,000 homes and businesses remained without power Sunday across southeast Louisiana, according to the state Public Service Commission. At the peak, 902,000 customers had lost power.
Fully restoring electricity to some places in the state’s southeast could take until the end of the month, according Phillip May, president and CEO of Entergy, which provides power to New Orleans and other areas in the storm’s path.
Entergy is in the process of acquiring air boats and other equipment needed to get power crews into swampy and marshy regions. May said many grocery stores, pharmacies and other businesses are a high priority.
“We will continue to work until every last light is on,” he said during a briefing Sunday.
In Jean Lafitte, a small town of about 2,000 people, pools of water along the roadway were receding and some of the thick mud left behind was beginning to dry.
Shannon Lation checks on her home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Lafitte, La. (AP Photo/John Locher)
At St. Anthony Church, the 4 feet (about 1.2 meters) of water once inside had seeped away, but a slippery layer of muck remained. Outside, the faithful sat on folding metal chairs under a blue tent to celebrate Mass. Next door, at the Piggly Wiggly, military police in fatigues stood guard.
“In times such like these, we come together and we help one another,” the Rev. Luke Nguyen, the church’s pastor, told a few dozen congregants.
Ronny Dufrene, a 39-year-old oil field worker from Lafayette, returned to his hometown to help.
“People are taking pictures of where their houses used to be,” he said. “But this is a chance to get together and praise God for what we do have, and that’s each other.”
In New Orleans, many churches remained closed due to lingering power outages.
But First Grace United Methodist Church opened its doors and held service without power. Sunlight from large windows brightened the sanctuary, where about 10 people sat.
“Whatever situation you’re in, you get to choose how you see it,” said Pastor Shawn Anglim, whose first time pastoring the congregation was after the church recovered from Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago. “You can see it from a place of faith, a place of hope and a place of love, and a place of possibility.”
Jennifer Moss, who attended service with her husband, Tom, said power had been restored to their home on Saturday.
“We’ve been blessed throughout this entire ordeal,” she said. “That storm could have been a little closer to the east, and we wouldn’t have a place to come and worship.”
In Lafitte, about 28 miles (45 kilometers) south of New Orleans, animal control officer Koby Bellanger experienced his own little blessing after he heard the sounds of an animal crying as he rode through the flooded streets with a sheriff’s deputy.
Bellanger waded through the water and found a tiny, green-eyed black kitten clinging to the engine of a car outside a devastated house. He hoisted the animal up, to the delight of Lafayette Parish Deputy Rebecca Bobzin.
“Bring him!” Bobzin screamed in delight.
Louisiana’s 13 storm-related deaths included five nursing home residents evacuated ahead of the hurricane along with hundreds of other seniors to a warehouse in Louisiana, where health officials said conditions became unsafe. On Saturday, State Health Officer Dr. Joseph Kanter ordered the immediate closure of the seven nursing facilities that sent residents to the warehouse.
Edwards was briefed Sunday about a cluster of thunderstorms near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but said forecasters “don’t see much potential at all for it developing into a storm of any real significance and we’re very, very thankful for that.”
He said it does have the potential to bring some rain to coastal Louisiana and southeast Louisiana.
Morrison reported from New Orleans. Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie in Richmond, Virginia, contributed.
People attend a political rally for Aziz Akhannouch, Moroccan businessman and head of the RNI party, in Rabat, Morocco, Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, days before the upcoming legislative and regional elections. Millions of Moroccans head to the polls on Sept. 8 to cast ballots in pivotal legislative and regional elections amid strict safety guidelines as the north African country is grappling with a new wave of COVID-19, driven mainly by the Delta variant. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)
RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Moroccans voted Wednesday for a new parliament and local leaders in elections that have been reshaped by the pandemic, and whose outcome is hard to predict as opinion polls were not allowed.
Candidates promised to create jobs and boost Morocco’s economy, education and health care. The kingdom has been hit hard by the pandemic, but has Africa’s highest vaccination rate so far.
Despite a dip in popularity in recent years, the governing Islamist party is eyeing a third term at the helm of the government if it again wins the most parliament seats. But a recent election reform could limits its powers, and the role of lawmakers is limited by the powers of King Mohamed VI, who oversees strategic decision-making.
“I hope that the people we voted for do not disappoint us,” said voter Adel Khanoussi, casting his ballot in the capital Rabat. “There are so many projects that should be implemented. The people’s expectations are high.”
Turnout was 36% three hours before polls closed.
The outcome of Wednesday’s voting is difficult to predict since opinion polls on elections are banned. The race will likely be close and no matter which party comes first, it will likely need to cobble together a coalition with other parties to form the government.
At a school turned polling station in Temara, near the capital, dozens of people stopped in to vote before going to work. Two security officers were stationed outside, and a poll worker took voters’ temperatures before letting them in.
Once inside, voters are asked to provide their identity cards and hand over their phones before entering the booth. They’re required to use hand sanitizer, wear a mask and keep 1-meter (3-foot) distances.
A 36-year-old woman who only gave her name as Fatima said she hopes the parliament can bring a “new Morocco” seen as an advanced world country.
While Morocco has one of the region’s strongest economies and a thriving business district in Casablanca, poverty and unemployment are also widespread, especially in rural regions. Morocco has seen thousands of despairing youth make risky, often deadly, trips in small boats to Spain’s Canary Islands or to the Spanish mainland via the Strait of Gibraltar.
Strict pandemic guidelines restricted candidates’ ability to reach the 18 million eligible voters. Candidates weren’t allowed to distribute leaflets and had to limit campaign gatherings to a maximum of 25 people. As a result, many stepped up efforts on social media instead.
Morocco has registered more than 13,000 COVID-19-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to figures from the Moroccan Health Ministry.
There were 31 parties and coalitions competing for the 395 seats in the lower house of parliament. Voters will also be selecting representatives for 678 seats in regional councils.
The moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), at the helm of the government since 2011, is seeking a third term. With Prime Minister Saad-Eddine El Othmani, the party has campaigned on raising the competitiveness of Morocco’s economy.
El Othmani acknowledged that turnout is a “challenge” in a country where many are disillusioned with politics, but said he was encouraged at his voting station to see “good participation of voters of both sexes.”
Other major contenders are the center-left Party of Authenticity and Modernity, or PAM, the Istiqlal party and the liberal National Rally of Independents.
Istiqlal general secretary Nizar Baraka said the new parliament should “work for the people to get them out of poverty and stop the deterioration of the middle class.”
The elections were monitored by 4,600 local observers and 100 more from abroad.
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld the conviction and sentence of a man on federal death row for the 2015 racist slayings of nine members of a Black South Carolina congregation.
A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond affirmed Dylann Roof’s conviction and sentence in the shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
In 2017, Roof became the first person in the U.S. sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. Authorities have said Roof opened fire during the closing prayer of a Bible study at the church, raining down dozens of bullets on those assembled. He was 21 at the time.
In his appeal, Roof’s attorneys argued that he was wrongly allowed to represent himself during sentencing, a critical phase of his trial. Roof successfully prevented jurors from hearing evidence about his mental health, “under the delusion,” his attorneys argued, that “he would be rescued from prison by white-nationalists — but only, bizarrely, if he kept his mental-impairments out of the public record.”
Roof’s lawyers said his convictions and death sentence should be vacated or his case should be sent back to court for a “proper competency evaluation.”
The 4th Circuit found that the trial judge did not commit an error when he found Roof was competent to stand trial and issued a scathing rebuke of Roof’s crimes.
“Dylann Roof murdered African Americans at their church, during their Bible-study and worship. They had welcomed him. He slaughtered them. He did so with the express intent of terrorizing not just his immediate victims at the historically important Mother Emanuel Church, but as many similar people as would hear of the mass murder,” the panel wrote in is ruling.
“No cold record or careful parsing of statutes and precedents can capture the full horror of what Roof did. His crimes qualify him for the harshest penalty that a just society can impose,” the judges wrote.
One of Roof’s attorneys, Margaret Alice-Anne Farrand, a deputy federal public defender, declined to comment on the ruling.
All of the judges in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers South Carolina, recused themselves from hearing Roof’s appeal; one of their own, Judge Jay Richardson, prosecuted Roof’s case as an assistant U.S. Attorney. The panel that heard arguments in May and issued the ruling on Wednesday was comprised of judges from several other appellate circuits.
Following his federal trial, Roof was given nine consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty in 2017 to state murder charges, leaving him to await execution in a federal prison and sparing his victims and their families the burden of a second trial.
President Joe Biden as a candidate said he’d work to end federal executions. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in March that he continues to have “grave concerns” about it.
Biden has connections to the case. As vice president, Biden attended the funeral for one of those slain, state Sen. Clementa Pinckney, who also pastored the congregation. During his 2020 presidential campaign, Biden frequently referenced the shooting, saying that a visit to Mother Emanuel helped him heal in the aftermath of the death of his son, Beau.
Roof’s attorneys could ask the full 4th Circuit to reconsider the panel’s ruling. If unsuccessful in his direct appeal, Roof could file what’s known as a 2255 appeal, or a request that the trial court review the constitutionality of his conviction and sentence. He could also petition the U.S. Supreme Court or seek a presidential pardon
Kinnard reported from Houston.