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Kehinde Wiley's 'Rumors Of War' Sculpture Unveiled In Richmond


About one mile - that's the distance between Kehinde Wiley's "Rumors Of War" sculpture and the Confederate monuments sitting along Richmond's historic Monument Avenue in Virginia. It's named for the statues there in tribute to Confederate veterans. Wiley's tribute depicts an African American man on horseback boldly sporting locs, Nike boots and a hoodie. It recently stood in Times Square.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: We've had statues that didn't necessarily serve the greater good, and thankfully, we're starting to address some of that.

CORNISH: That from the streets of New York. But now to Richmond, the statue's final home. We're joined now by Julian Hayter. He's an associate professor at the University of Richmond. He previously sat on the Monument Avenue Commission. Welcome to the program.

JULIAN HAYTER: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So to begin, as we mentioned, you once sat on this Monument Avenue Commission. Describe to us what the avenue looks like.

HAYTER: Yeah. There are five statues of Confederate - the former Confederate leaders and then a statue of Arthur Ashe on Monument Avenue. And all of them are, by comparison, particularly to their counterparts in the South, much bigger.

CORNISH: Oh, really?


CORNISH: So what was going on when this national conversation was stirred up about what to do about Confederate monuments, so to speak - about whether they should be taken down? And if they are taken down, where should they be?


CORNISH: A place - like, how did that actually play out on the streets - on this case, Monument Avenue?

HAYTER: Right. We saw a kind of muted version of some of the events that took place in other places like Charlottesville. People sworn against the monuments came out, and they've been coming out for quite some time. And I think ultimately, what it represents is this is part - that Richmond has become part of a larger national discussion about how to memorialize the past, how to reimagine the Confederacy and how to interrogate the lost cause.

CORNISH: Especially when, you know, the argument for maintaining these kinds of monuments has often been that, like, this is history.

HAYTER: Right.

CORNISH: And to get rid of it would deny that it exists, and you can hardly do that in Richmond, right? I mean, it's integral to the story of the Confederacy.

HAYTER: Absolutely. I think, you know, many of the people who stand in defense of the monuments argue that they are war memorials exclusively and they are a part of history. The part of history, I think, is debatable in what they represent. I do not believe, as a historian, that they are war memorials entirely. Most of those monuments were erected without a popular mandate. In many ways, they are as much testaments to Jim Crow segregation as they are the lost - or the Confederacy in the Civil War.

CORNISH: So when Kehinde Wiley, the artist behind this new monument, says that "Rumors Of War" is meant to challenge the legacy of Confederate symbolism, in what way do you actually see it doing that?

HAYTER: I think in some ways, if you look - if you drove down Monument Avenue and you knew nothing of the Civil War, you would think that the South won the war. And I think those statues were built that way for a reason. The South may have lost the Civil War, but in many ways, it won the civil peace, and those statues are a reminder of the victory over the civil peace. So in some ways, Kehinde Wiley's rendition of the statues on Monument Avenue is a way to turn that narrative on its head.

CORNISH: A kid in Nikes does that?

HAYTER: Absolutely.

CORNISH: (Laughter) But you can see why I'm asking.

HAYTER: Right.

CORNISH: Help me put this in context.

HAYTER: That kid in Nikes doesn't stand without context. I mean, we are having a discussion right now about the lost cause, and that's what it's done. It's generated momentum to go back and think about the nature in which people told the story of the Civil War and they told the story of slavery. And if that statue can get us to a narrative that better explains what caused the Civil War and what happened as a result, I think that's a step in the right direction.

CORNISH: That's Julian Hayter, historian and associate professor at the University of Richmond. Thank you for your time.

HAYTER: You're welcome. Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.