‘Removing Confederate monuments is a step out of … complacency and acceptance’

9/15/2017, 12:19 p.m.

Full text of letter submitted on behalf of the board and staff of the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia:

A year ago, the renovation of the old Leigh Street Armory was completed and the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia moved into its new home. We have welcomed nearly 20,000 visitors to our modernized facility and we are happy to attract tourists from near and far to see our permanent exhibition that highlights Emancipation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and Civil Rights, along with traveling exhibitions presenting contemporary history makers. 

We have heightened our standing as a museum and we are broadening our community impact by enhancing learning opportunities — ongoing programs for children, literary presentations, community conversations, art and history discussions, music and dance performances, as well as topical debates. 

We realize, however, that amidst these wonderful changes, the words of one of our early champions, John L. Mitchell Jr., still have relevance in today’s world, “… howl, yes howl loudly, until the American people hear our cries.”

John L. Mitchell Jr. was the editor and publisher of the black-owned newspaper, the Richmond Planet, and one of his many initiatives of parity was an armory to serve African-American soldiers for drills and assemblies as well as to rest and relax. His words symbolize the struggle and plea for help to end racism and the lynching of black people in the South. This plea was to all Americans at the height of mob and vigilante violence against black people at the turn of the century.

Mr. Mitchell was one of the most prolific and outspoken crusaders to stop lynch mobs in the South. A Richmonder, he was one of the most daring people, at the risk of his own safety, in confronting mob violence in Virginia. He was able to navigate the tumultuous times and Virginia government bureaucracy of the 1890s to halt unjust sentencing against black people and to protest against lynching.

This time period, albeit different, sounds all too familiar of race-hating mob violence in today’s headlines.

We realize that history is not just about the past, but history is being made every day and we must take responsibility for this history. We condemn and despise the rise of hate that has become an everyday headline and “newsworthy” story.

We despise the hate that was expressed by the neo-Nazis, the KKK and the white supremacists. But they remind us all that hate is always present looking for a reason to express itself. They remind us that some people cannot accept that the world has changed around them and that it will continue to change both socially and ethnically.  

Silence is not an option, as many have already stated. Silence is complacency, and we cannot be complacent. 

Removing Confederate monuments is a step out of the many years of complacency and acceptance. Let the monuments and what they represented remain part of history not the present.

Now is the time for us all to applaud and support the decision to move forward. Let’s change the narrative and become one of the new cities of hope and peace within our national fabric, choosing to be aspirational and inspirational for the future. Become an ambassador of the new Richmond. Let your voice be a part of this historic moment.  Remember the valiant efforts and death of those unafraid; let their memory fuel our future by questioning assumptions, stimulating curiosity and inspiring people to think about our world differently. 

We, the board and staff of the Black History Museum & Cultural Center of Virginia, express our sincere condolences to the families of Heather Heyer, and Virginia State Police Lt. H. Jay Cullen and Trooper Berke Bates. We grieve with you and offer our deepest sympathies.

Ms. Heyer, Lt. Cullen and Trooper Bates, are to be remembered for their heroic acts and sense of duty against the hate and mob violence in Charlottesville that will not be forgotten.


Interim executive director