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Monument Marking End Of Slavery Unveiled In Virginia, Weeks After Lee Statue Removed

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

In Virginia today, officials unveiled a new monument to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. This comes just two weeks after a towering statue of Robert E. Lee was taken down in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. From member station VPM in Richmond, Patrick Larsen has the story.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

PATRICK LARSEN, BYLINE: The dedication began with a libation ceremony. Water was poured to honor Africans stolen from their homeland, enslaved people and Black people who fought for freedom. They were called on by name.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: One day, someone may call yours.

LARSEN: Hundreds of people braved heavy rain to see the reveal of man, woman and child cast in bronze and standing 12 feet tall. Chains are falling, suspended in mid-air from the man's wrists, and the woman carries a look of determination. State Senator Jennifer McClellan heads the commission tasked with memorializing the emancipation of enslaved Americans.

JENNIFER MCCLELLAN: You know, when you come to this statue and you see the whip marks on the man's back, but you see the baby in the woman's arms, I mean, it really does represent hope and triumph over unspeakable pain and terror and trauma.

LARSEN: McClellan says public art has a responsibility to speak to trauma. It's part of what she calls the story of us. Governor Ralph Northam said this monument represents Virginia today.

RALPH NORTHAM: Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value.

LARSEN: The monument has been in the works for nearly a decade and was supposed to go up in 2019. But with last year's racial justice protests and the removal of Confederate memorials nationwide, McClellan says the timing feels right.

MCCLELLAN: It's needed now more because since then, we've suffered so much trauma with the murder of George Floyd and this reckoning.

LARSEN: The woman stands on a pedestal that bears the likenesses and descriptions of 10 Black Virginians. Among them, newspaperman John Mitchell Jr., who fearlessly campaigned against lynchings, and Nat Turner, leader of one of the most significant rebellions of enslaved people in American history.

For NPR news, I'm Patrick Larsen in Richmond, Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEW ORDER SONG, "CEREMONY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 22, 2021 at 11:00 PM CDT
An earlier headline for this story incorrectly said a new monument "replaced" a statute of Robert E. Lee in Virginia. In fact, the new Emancipation and Freedom Monument is located in a different part of the state capital, Richmond.