Bench warmers

4/27/2023, 6 p.m.
When statues of traitorous Confederate leaders were removed by concerned volunteers from the public and the remainder by city officials …

When statues of traitorous Confederate leaders were removed by concerned volunteers from the public and the remainder by city officials in 2021-2022, it was a good look for the city.

There was Richmond, entrenched with remnants of a failed force in the form of stone figures and still struggling to interpret what their continued presence meant, finally making an executive decision to move the hell on. Years after their failed campaign, the Confederates looked to be finally in retreat. Richmond looked progressive, smart and cool.

No wonder so many people want to move here to find out what makes us that way.

But vestiges of the confederacy still remain, lurking in the names of bridges and streets and, as it now appears, in the corner of a utility substation on Wise Street in South Side. The shrine to the Confederate dead at the substation isn’t new, the original marker was made by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and placed there with city support in 1939.

A sign of the times indeed: the government assisting with the construction of markers that claim to memorialize the dead but served to perpetuate white supremacy. Certainly, this type of thing wouldn’t be sanctioned by the government of our city today, especially not the administration of Mayor Levar M. Stoney, who claimed credit for the removal of the statues on Monument Avenue. “Like many cities across the country, we held a mirror up to ourselves and asked whether we approved of the reflection staring back,” Mayor Stoney wrote in a New York Times editorial in 2021. “We didn’t.”

It might be time to take another look. The City of Richmond recently spent more than $16,000 on upgrades to the Confederate shrine at the substation. Fencing and a bench were added to the site, which already includes a marker. Thus, while the city appears to be intent on erasing some of its still standing remnants of the confederacy, it’s quietly reinforcing and investing in others. Why? A city official says the add-ons to the marker were done at the request of one person, who has a relative that is “represented” by this marker so they can “sit and reflect.” Say what? Like our mayor wrote, this isn’t the kind of image or reflection we can approve.

This unfortunate and misguided investment begs a lot of questions. Here’s a few: If the city is now in the bench building business, will they be offering places to mourn departed loved ones for all city residents? Or just this one person? Also, if the bodies of the deceased were moved to another site, away from their initial resting place where the substation stands, why is the marker still there? And who is the person that convinced the Department of Public Utilities to divert their resources from their mission to “to provide a clean, safe and healthy environment” and doing the hard work that “keeps Richmond looking good.”

Our city leaders have a responsibility to every resident of the city, not just the ones that find a way to get to the front of the line with their ridiculous, self- serving demands. It makes us wonder: Who’s really running the city – and who is sitting on the bench?