City builds Confederate shrine for sole citizen’s use

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 4/27/2023, 6 p.m.
A resident asked for it. That’s why the Richmond Department of Public Utilities spent upward of $16,000 to create a …

A resident asked for it.

That’s why the Richmond Department of Public Utilities spent upward of $16,000 to create a shrine to Confederate soldiers on the grounds of a utility substation located in the 2400 block of Wise Street in South Side, according to City Hall’s No. 2 official.

Lincoln Saunders, chief administrative officer, provided that explanation in an April 21 email sent to the Free Press, members of City Council and community advocate Michael Sarahan, who raised questions about the shrine, which surrounds a marker remembering Confederate soldiers and features a bench and gate.

Mr. Saunders responded to Mr. Sarahan’s question, “Why is this one marker given pride of place, while the others have been removed?”

“The marker is a tombstone for the mass burial,” Mr. Saunders stated in the two-paragraph email. “THAT is why it has been treated with sensitivity by the City.

“This location was a mass gravesite for soldiers,” he continued, “and we don’t know how many remains may still lie on this site.”

“Furthermore, a resident, who has a grandfather, four times removed, represented by this marker asked for and received the bench to sit and reflect at the marker,” Mr. Saunders stated. “You may disagree, but please accept this as the city’s official response.”

According to city records, the bench cost $1,068. A search of records could not turn up a similar instance in which the city spent taxpayer dollars in response to a single resident’s request for a personal benefit.

As the Free Press reported in the April 6-8 edition, the Richmond chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy created the marker and with city backing and installed it at the site with much fanfare in 1939.

The now 84-year-old marker remembers 100 or so wounded South Carolina Confederate soldiers who died at a make-

shift hospital set up in a house that still exists and sits across Wise Street from the substation.

Despite Mr. Saunders’ claim that the property was a mass grave, Mr. Sarahan has found a statement from DPU that contradicts that assertion.

According to DPU, the city “relocated the graves to the rear of the site several decades prior to erecting the utility building.” In other words, there are not supposed to be any remains on the property.

Mr. Sarahan has followed the shrine’s development. In an April 19 email, he noted that the gate into the shrine “has been taken off, and the shrine is open to the public.

Mayor Levar M. Stoney, whose tenure as mayor includes the removal of Confederate statues and icons from public spaces, did not respond to a Free Press query about whether he supported the shrine.

The members of City Council who were included on Mr. Saunders’ email also have not issued any public statement concerning the shrine.