RICHMOND, Va. — The Defenders, a group of Virginians who work for the “survival of our communities through education and social justice projects” have asked Virginia leaders to change the course of the upcoming UCI Road World Championships (Worlds) bicycle race. The group does not approve of the course which highlights Monument Avenue which it calls “a virtual shrine to the Confederacy.” The group also said the race “disrespects Shockoe Bottom, for decades the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade.”
The group detailed its concerns in an open letter to Richmond 2015, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Richmond Mayor Dwight Jones and other leaders.
At the present time, your organization has chosen to use this race to highlight Monument Avenue, a virtual shrine to the slavery-defending Confederacy, with statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis; Generals Robert E. Lee, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart; and Naval Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury. There also is one statue of an African-American, tennis champion and anti-apartheid activist Arthur Ashe, but your chosen route ignores him, making the Davis monument the highlight of the race by using it as the halfway turning point. The route includes having the cyclists ride their bikes directly over the sacred ground of Shockoe Bottom, for decades the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade.
With international attention now focused on calls for South Carolina to end its official promotion of a flag that symbolizes the Confederacy and resistance to civil rights for African-Americans, continuing with this route as planned, during the Sesquicentennial Commemoration of Emancipation and the end of the Civil War, would put Richmond, with its status as the former capital of the Confederacy, in the worst possible light.
We appeal to your own self-interest as well as your concern for the good name of our city when we call on you to change the route of this race. Otherwise, it is inevitable that the race will draw the kind of national and international scrutiny and criticism that could set back race relations – and tourism – in Richmond for many years to come.
The Defenders’ request came hours after Governor McAuliffe ordered the Confederate battle flag removed from Virginia state license plates.
“These steps will, I hope, make clear that this Commonwealth does not support the display of the Confederate battle flag or the message it sends to the rest of the world,” Governor McAuliffe said.
Concerning the bike race, the governor said “No, were aren’t gonna change any monuments or move the bike race.”
The Virginia Flaggers condemned Governor McAuliffe’s decision Tuesday, to remove the battle flag from state license plates.
“The license plates were made available at the request of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and have been in use with no issues for 12 years,” Flaggers spokesman Grayson Jennings wrote in an email. “The organization is made up of citizens of the Commonwealth who can trace their lineage directly to an ancestor who was a Veteran of the Confederate Armed Forces. Members work, live, and worship every day alongside men and women of every race, creed, and color, and there have been no reported incidents of anyone being harmed by the license plates, or any disturbances caused by their use.”
Jennings called McAuliffe’s action politically motivated.