Residents discussed a proposed, and much debated, monument and urban center honoring civil rights activist and Richmond native Maggie Walker at a public forum on Tuesday night.
The forum was hosted at the Richmond public library and was an opportunity for locals to ask the monument designers and engineers questions regarding the prospective monument and plaza.
“She represents what Richmond is all about,” Mayor Dwight D. Jones told the crowded room. “In Richmond only one side of the story is being told.”
Controversy around the proposal erupted immediately after Jones announced plans to develop the monument in November. A portion of the community is invested in protecting a 30-year-old oak tree currently inhabiting the area of Broad and Adams streets where the monument will prospectively go.
At press time, the petition started by community member Jamie LaRose to save the tree titled “Woodman, Spare That Tree,” had gained 1,408 signatures.
“We are thrilled to be getting all of this valuable input before we make decisions that we can’t take back,” said Sarah Driggs, chairwoman of the Richmond Public Art Commission.
But a group known as “GLORY4MLW” comprised of civil rights activists, community members, residents and Maggie Walker elementary school alumni were in support of the idea to remove the tree from the proposed plaza space.
GLORY4MLW’s counter petition is titled “Save Maggie Walker from the Tree,” and has more than 300 signatures.
Local civil rights leader Gary Flowers handed out stickers in support of GLORY4MLW at Tuesday’s forum.
“Our stickers symbolize the African American and beyond, white and black coalition that glorifies the work and legacy of Maggie Lena Walker,” Flowers said. “it’s not about black or white, its about what’s wrong or right.”
Flowers said he wants to educate the community on the many issues Maggie Walker was invested in.
“This project should honor and glory her legacy so that generations to come will not only know her as a bank president, but as a suffragette and a fighter for women’s issues,” Flowers said.
Other community members also hope the monument will serve to educate the community. Local activist and VCU alum Carmen Foster said there needs to be more knowledge surrounding the history of Richmond’s neighborhoods.
“The mainstream community really does not understand the history of the African American community,” Foster said. “They don’t know the history of Jackson Ward and how it was able, for instance, to have five black banks before 1900.”
For Foster, the oak tree issue misses the point of installing the monument.
“I think it’s an intentional distraction because we need to be talking about Maggie Walker and not the tree,” Foster said.
The monument will be designed by artist Toby Mendez who also designed the Thurgood Marshall memorial in Annapolis, Maryland, in addition to more than 30 other monuments.
For Mendez, the community feedback is key to his design.
“My hope is what came from this evening is to figure out the elements that will tell us where to go,” Mendez said.
Staff Writer, Andrew Crider
Andrew is a junior economics major who has written for student newspapers since he was in high school. Andrew is interested in political history, aviation, photography and running. He has a tendency to refer to his peers, coworkers and bosses as “ma’am” or “sir,” but is getting better about referring to his friends at the CT by their first names instead. // Facebook