Most motorists never notice it as they zip by. But for years, its presence has galled Mike Sarahan, a local activist and former attorney for the city who thinks the city is wrong to allow a Confederate monument on the grounds of a public building.
Sarahan says people who criticize the Lincoln statue should remember the existence of this marker. "I'm hoping the city can be encouraged to remind the Confederate forces that it has accommodated them," he says.
Del. Viola O. Baskerville, a vocal proponent of the statue, agrees that in Richmond, the Civil War has long been remembered only from the Confederate perspective. "If you're going to tell the story, don't have it so one-sided," she says.
In October 2000, Sarahan wrote to City Manager Calvin Jamison and Council members to request that the memorial be removed and returned to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who own and maintain it. It was inappropriate, he wrote, "as if the City still endorses the purposes for which the Jefferson Davis Highway system was established in the first place."
Jamison said in his reply that the marker's placement was authorized by a 1935 ordinance that permitted the UDC to "erect at its own cost and expense a marker as a memorial to President Jefferson Davis" on the site. The city has no plans to move it, Jamison wrote, unless the Virginia Department of Transportation widens the road.
Sarahan responded, making a formal request to revoke the ordinance, which he said was authored at a time when Richmond's government was overtly racist. In December 2000, Jamison replied that the marker would remain. No city officials gave his suggestion any serious attention, Sarahan believes.
A spokeswoman for Jamision saysthat he will have no further comment.
But Sarahan says he's willing to let the marker stand, as long as Lincoln too is honored. The point, he says, is that no one "has the exclusive right to determine who is a hero for Richmond."
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