This past week, white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a downtown park. As multiple news sources reported, the rally’s violence culminated in chilling brutality when protestor James Fields rammed his car through a crowd of counter-demonstrators on a nearby pedestrian mall, injuring 19 and killing one.
It’s beyond question that the far right gathered on Saturday to spread hate in a public space. It just so happens, too, that this latest domestic terrorist attack coincides with the city’s in-motion plans to redesign two main public parks—including the one with the Lee statue—around justice and equity.
Back in June, the city issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) to develop a master plan that enhances the connection between Justice Park and Emancipation Park, as well as the parks themselves. Located two blocks away from each other, the two parks, formerly named for Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and Lee,* respectively, were sites of this weekend’s protests.
Among other changes, the city would like to develop better gathering spaces in both parks and memorialize former slaves in Justice Park. To prepare a design, the document asks participating firms to get acquainted with MASS Design Group’s Memorial to Peace and Justice, a project in Montgomery, Alabama to honor victims of lynching.
The RFP grew out of a report released in August of last year by the Blue Ribbon Commission, a group city officials convened to address race and representation in the city’s public spaces. With statues of Confederate generals and a slave auction block in parks, as well as the preserved Reconstruction-era Freedmen’s Bureau, the commission’s final report “[acknowledged] that far too often Charlottesville’s public spaces and histories have ignored, silenced or suppressed African American history, as well as the legacy of white supremacy and the unimaginable harms done under that cause.”
The chosen designer is expected to engage with the community extensively. In Charlottesville, city officials imagine that public history for the 21st century may be illuminated with new art, placemaking initiatives, and wayfinding.
Interested? The deadline is approaching fast: Submissions are due this Thursday, August 17.
*The park’s renaming is in process, pending a court decision later this month.