Richmond’s Other Heroes


I saw Monument Avenue while on a bus tour through the city’s historic districts. Our guide told us she wasn’t going to say much about the statue but would let us judge for ourselves, based on the quality of statues that would come before it, whether or not the Ashe monument belonged there.

“We all want to honor Arthur Ashe,” she said. “It’s just a question of how we’re going to do it. A lot of people felt that it would have been much better to have put the statue in Byrd Park, overlooking the tennis courts where he was denied access as a child.” I studied the statue for several minutes while the bus was stopped at Monument Avenue, and I came back later to take a picture of it. It stands there, bronze like the others, but instead of a figure of a Southern soldier mounted on a horse, Ashe’s feet remain planted on the ground. Instead of a sword he holds a book and a tennis racket, and instead of troops he’s surrounded by children. I decided that I liked it, especially because of where it was. It was somehow heartening to see Ashe’s simple memorial in the midst of those grandiose bronze sculptures of Confederate warriors.

Perhaps Richmond is finally on its way to being the city it should have been years ago, a place where the African-American experience is as honored and valued as the Confederate one— and where anyone can be a hero.

—Atiya Butler TO PLAN A TRIP