New monument highlighting historic African Americans coming to Richmond


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY) — Members of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission met Tuesday to fine tune the design of a new monument in the works.

It’s called the Emancipation Proclamation and Freedom Monument. Right now, there’s a model of the artist’s design on display at The Valentine, a museum in Richmond’s downtown, as part of a new exhibit called “Monumental.” It opened last week.

“This is helping to address some of the stories that haven’t’ been told,” Eric Steigleder, the Director of Public Relations & Marketing of The Valentine, said.

Walking down the hall of the exhibit, you can see a small statue of an enslaved black man, breaking free from the chains of slavery and a woman holding up the Emancipation Proclamation. The arm of the woman was broken during the move to the museum, but the image is still moving.

“When you look at a monument like this, you get a sense of, kind of, where we were as a community and the progress we’re in the process of making,” Steigleder said.

More progress was made today as a working group, made of of citizens, historians and lawmakers. They were working on the language at the base of the monument, which has ten “Virginia heroes,” including Dred Scott and Nat Turner.

“We did a public nomination process and that was sort of our criteria that they were either born or spent a significant part of their life here,” State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (Richmond-D), the chair of the commission, said. “Monuments have to tell a complete story and our focus is making sure there are new monuments that do that.”

The group adjourned today without finished all of the short biographies on the base, but hope to finish it all ahead of the scheduled full meeting of the commission next week, July 17th.

“I mean, It’s going to be engraved in stone – forever. Hopefully,” Sen. McClellan said, getting a laugh from the room. “So, we’ve got to make sure we get it right.”

This commission has been working on the monument since 2012. That’s when the General Assembly allocated $500,000 to the project. Now, the commission is trying to raise another $500,000 to cover the monument.

The Valentine plans to host an event for fundraising, where potential donors to the statue can see the model in the museum. The commission also plans to solicit donations from organizations and individuals, including Governor Northam and former Governor Terry McAuliffe.

Sen. McClellan even took money out of her pocket, $5,000, to help the project.

“This project is really important to me personally, as an African American woman. Watching a complete story of Virginia history unfold through monuments is sort of very fulfilling,” she said. “If I’m not willing to put m money behind this project I can’t ask other people to do it and I just  want to do everything I can to make this monument happen.”

If all goes to plan, the commission will vote on the final design, including the texts and final renderings next week at the full meeting.

Then, the artist is expected to cast a lifesize clay models of the monument’s two main figures. They will be brought to a commission meeting in December. They hope the full monument will be cast and installed to be unveiled on Brown’s Island by December of 2019.

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