American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations

Race, Memory, and Communal Belonging in Narrative and Art: Richmond, Virginia's Monument Avenue, 1948-1996

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/English

First Advisor

Philip Terrie


Locating public memory as a central site in the contested imagination of communal belonging, this study examines the post-World War II history of Richmond, Virginia's Monument Avenue as a key symbolic location in the cultural politics and political culture of the Civil Rights and post-Civil Rights eras. A New South-era network of memorials to leaders of the Confederacy, Monument Avenue has long stood as the spatial and artistic manifestation of the cultural values espoused through the ideology of the Lost Cause. This ideology enabled the continued cultural and political dominance of a patrician, white elite who ruled Virginia through a politics of paternalism. This paternalism assured white rule and rigid racial segregation but was effected without the overt violence and abuses commonly associated with the post-Reconstruction South. After tracing the history of Monument Avenue from 1890 through 1948— especially in relation to racial segregation and public memory in Virginia—this study provides a detailed analysis of the ways the Civil Rights Movement and anti-integration movements in Richmond used Monument Avenue as a symbol of the larger struggle in which they were engaged. In the post-Civil Rights era, under ideologies of neoliberalism and multiculturalism, the existing Confederate memorials were joined, in 1996, by a new statue of African American tennis champion, writer, and activist Arthur Ashe. This memorial was unveiled only after two years of intense public debate. The second half of this study examines the transformation of Richmond and Virginia's cultural politics and political culture under neoliberalism and multiculturalism, especially the political career of the conservative Democrat, L. Douglas Wilder who, in 1989, was the first African American to be elected governor of Virginia or any other U.S. State. This history is presented alongside a study of Arthur Ashe's life as described in his four memoirs, his newspaper columns, and his public appearances. Using the central texts, I foreground the Ashe memorial and its debates by demonstrating that as barriers to racial inclusion were lowered, neoliberalism enabled the reentrenchment of the values associated with white paternalism and the reaffirmation of class hierarchies.