Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Arthur Ashe Monument Tagged With "White Lives Matter"

Man drawing on Arthur Ashe statue
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*Jakob Cordes, Malcolm Key, Crixell Matthews, and David Streever contributed to this report.

Earlier today, a man was witnessed writing “white lives matter,” on a monument to Arthur Ashe, the only statue dedicated to a Black man or woman on Monument Avenue. The statue had been tagged overnight with “WLM,” an acronym for white lives matter, which was covered up with “BLM,” for Black lives matter.

Ashe was a professional tennis player and the only Black man to ever win a singles title at Wimbledon, the US Open, and the Australian Open.

While volunteers scrubbed off the “white lives matter” tag, the man who wrote "white lives matter" earlier returned to try to scrub off the BLM tag, saying, “Black lives matter, get out of here.”

In response to a bystander who asked about his identity, the man said, “My name is everybody. Everybody that’s here that has property value. Everybody here that’s paid to f--- live here, that’s tired of seeing this bullshit.”

The man, who was driving a car with out-of-state plates, became angry and drove off after people asked him why he had written “white lives matter.”

The Arthur Ashe statue, the only non-Confederate monument on the avenue, was erected in 1996 to counterbalance the Confederate monuments. After a seven-hour hearing, City Council accepted a proposal from then-Mayor Leonidas Young to place the statue on Monument Avenue despite fierce opposition. In 1995, the New York Times reported, “City Hall fielded more than 400 telephone calls over the issue in five days, 90 percent of them opposing the designated location of the statue.”

At the time, critics said that Ashe was not as “heroic” or “monumental” as the men who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.

Confederate monuments have become gathering spots for Black Lives Matter marches and other protests against police brutality, held in response to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black men and women. Protesters have written anti-racist messages on the statues as they’ve toppled other Confederate monuments around the city.

Kalia Harris, co-host of WRIR’s Race Capitol, says she wasn’t surprised by the tagging, but said there was a clear difference between that and the BLM tags that covers many Confederate monuments. “I don’t know what those folks were intending with putting ‘white lives matter’ on the statue other than mal intent, but that’s a lot different than reclaiming an oppressive space that has been for centuries,” she said.

The Confederate monuments were planned, funded, and built during Jim Crow, when Black Virginians were denied their Civil Rights and disenfranchised by white lawmakers. Nearly all-white public bodies built statues like the Robert E. Lee monument as part of a planned development to create high-value property for white buyers.

Harris said she hoped whoever was writing “WLM” would take time to learn about the Black Lives Matter movement, “It’s so much deeper than a hashtag, and I just challenge those folks to think deeply and listen to what these folks are saying, because there are plans behind all of the chants.” In Richmond, marchers have called for an increase in mental health services and a decrease in use of force along with police defunding.

Local residents cleaned the monument of nearly all “WLM” tags by 2 p.m.


VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
Related Stories