A multiracial group of civic leaders has decided that Robert E. Lee's portrait should be returned to the city's new waterfront canal but should share space with two other images: a black Union soldier who fought in the Battle of Richmond and President Abraham Lincoln, who would be shown on his visit to the city two days after Lee's forces had fled.
The committee reached its compromise less than a month after the famed Confederate general's portrait was pulled from the waterfront following African Americans' complaints that the display was deeply offensive.
The portrait was included in a display on a flood wall that depicts 400 years of Richmond history.
But it was clear today that the group's hoped-for solution wouldn't soon end the controversy in this city, where debate over the war itself echoes in salons and saloons nearly 135 years after it ended.
"If they put Lee back up, in whatever form, it certainly mirrors the point I have been trying to make: that no one really cares about the negative impact of Lee on the African American community," said City Council member Sa'ad El-Amin, who led the protest of the portrait.
Choosing a different portrait of Lee--the new version shows Lee standing in the living room of his Richmond home after the war--"elevates form over substance," El-Amin said. "It's still Lee."
At the other end of the spectrum, Collin Pulley, chairman of the Heritage Defense Committee of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said that "it sounds great to put General Lee back up. I have no problem with the others going up, though I'm certainly not a Lincoln fan."
The committee, made up of nine whites, nine blacks and one American Indian chief, reached its compromise--which has yet to receive final approval from the Richmond Historic Riverfront Foundation--just hours after the Virginia state conference of the NAACP announced that it wanted Lee off the wall permanently.
"Anything with Lee is unacceptable to us," said King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the state NAACP.
Khalfani said that two African American members of the committee told him that they opposed the decision, "but they went by consensus. Obviously, some other blacks [on the panel] were in favor."
Many blacks expressed resentment over yet another tribute to Lee--even his horse is honored in Richmond--because he symbolizes the slave owner-with-a-heart-of-gold mentality that is revered in some circles in this majority-black city.
Businessman James E. Rogers, president of the foundation that created the riverfront display, said the revised exhibit is "a significant improvement from a historical point of view."
Besides Lee and Lincoln, the new display includes a black Union soldier, Powhatan Beaty, who was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Rogers said a final decision on whether to put the portraits on the riverfront won't be made until after the public has a chance to see and comment on them during a preview next week at the city convention center. Part of the outcry over the original display arose because it seemed to go up overnight, surprising both critics and supporters.
Rogers said no consideration was given to excluding Lee from the display, because the idea of the murals is to "interpret the history of Richmond, especially its waterfront area, and Lee and the Civil War are so much a part of that history."
Mayor Tim Kaine, a member of the committee, said the new approach makes sense.
"The historical completeness and accurateness of the compromise makes sense, and should make much of the controversy go away," Kaine said. Kaine, a relative newcomer to the history-obsessed former capital of the Confederacy (he moved here from Kansas 15 years ago). added: "But I'd be highly surprised if it made all of it go away."