This morning, as I have been doing every Tuesday morning since the school year began, I dropped my son off at preschool and drove to my office. However, rather than taking my usual route, today I chose a different way.
As the crow flies, driving down Monument Avenue is probably the most direct route from my son’s school to where I work. But, it’s certainly not the fastest route. Yet, I chose this route to reinforce the enormity of the opportunity I have this afternoon when I go to cast my vote for President of the United States.
Monument Avenue was recognized in 2007 by the American Planning Association as one of the 10 Great Streets in the country. Architecturally, aesthetically, etc., it is a lovely road, especially among the resplendent colors of fall. However, it is also a road that gives me great pause. Traveling as I did this morning, in order, I passed the following giant monuments: Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis (monument photo), J.E.B. Stuart (monument photo) and Robert E. Lee (monument photo). I’ll spare you the long history lesson, but these folks were all leaders of the Confederate States of America (CSA) or the Confederate army before and during the Civil War. They fought for states rights as the CSA had declared secession from the United States. There were multiple reasons for the secession declaration, but as historian Drew Gilpin Faust wrote, “leaders of the secession movement across the South cited slavery as the most compelling reason for southern independence.” Thus, one cannot drive down Monument Avenue without being reminded of the enslavement of people of African descent that marks much of our nation’s early history.
The historical significance of those statues notwithstanding, there is another statue that I passed on Monument Avenue before I came to the others. In July of 1996, a statue of a native son of Richmond, VA was unveiled on Monument Avenue. That native son? Arthur Ashe (monument photo). I wasn’t around for the controversy that apparently encircled the decision to place that statue on Monument Avenue. But, as a relative newcomer to Richmond, I do find the placement of the statue very interesting. The word that comes to mind is “contraposition.” In other words, the placement of a statue of a groundbreaking African-American athlete and civil rights leader on the same road that recognizes the leadership of the Confederacy is striking, at the very least. For me, then, the statue stands as a monument of hope, possibility and change.
Arther Ashe is quoted as saying, “”True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic. It is not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost.” Personally, I think Barack Obama and John McCain are both pretty heroic by Ashe’s definition. However, when I cast my vote this afternoon, I will be thinking of all that I believe that the Arthur Ashe monument represents to me. I will hold my 3 year old son tightly and vote for the man who follows the trail blazed by pioneers like Arthur Ashe.
To this point in our nation’s history, all 43 of our presidents have been white men. I am so thankful and honored that later today, like I did this morning in getting to work, when I cast my vote, I have the opportunity to choose a different way.
I will vote for Barack Obama.