The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Family of George Floyd visits Richmond to see unveiling of high-tech memorial

Philonise Floyd, a brother of George Floyd, speaks at the base of the statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond. A hologram of George Floyd was unveiled July 28 at the statue. (Parker Michels-Boyce for The Washington Post)

RICHMOND — The creators of a high-tech memorial to George Floyd wanted to unveil it in a place that had deep meaning for the cause of fighting racial inequity, so they chose the grandest totem in the former capital of the Confederacy: the statue of Robert E. Lee on this city's Monument Avenue.

Floyd’s family traveled to Richmond to be present for Tuesday’s unveiling of a holographic portrait of the man whose death in May at the hands of Minneapolis police touched off protests around the world.

“We’re here to share this special moment for my brother,” Rodney Floyd said as the hologram played on a screen. “Right now, right here, this is a beautiful scene.”

Robert E. Lee is the only Confederate icon still standing on a Richmond avenue forever changed

The work features projected points of light, like fireflies, that coalesce into a likeness of Floyd. After Richmond, it will be taken on the road, following the path of the Freedom Riders who took buses through the racially segregated South in 1961.

“We wanted to do something really bold and capture the attention of the world,” said Alaina Curry, a spokeswoman for Change.org, which sponsored the event with the George Floyd Foundation.

The Change.org online petition seeking justice for Floyd is the most successful in the site’s history, with more than 19 million signatures, Curry said.

“We were trying to think of ways to continue to amplify this message of not just George Floyd, but of racial justice and equality, and this hologram idea came about,” she said.

The group contacted Floyd’s family, which has started the foundation to raise money and awareness for civil justice issues, and the family endorsed the idea.

Members of the family attended a private demonstration of the artwork Monday night at the site of the Monument Avenue statue that formerly honored Confederate president Jefferson Davis, until it was pulled down by protesters early last month.

The display was deeply moving, Rodney Floyd, who traveled with other family members from their home in Houston, said earlier Tuesday.

“Honestly, it’s beautiful,” he said. “And it resembles him. And the energy that was out there last night from the local people — we all were excited. I’m smiling right now thinking about it.”

Floyd said he had never visited Richmond, where the Confederate memorials on Monument Avenue have been the focal point of protests triggered by his brother’s death. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has removed three of the five statues, and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is locked in a court battle to take Lee’s off property owned by the state.

No longer untouchable, Lee statue becomes focus of civic outpouring in Richmond

In the meantime, the huge traffic circle around Lee has become the heart of civic outpouring over the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight for racial equity.

“It’s a very tense conversation that’s happening in Richmond right now. We thought it would be a good place to start,” Curry said.

The artwork will travel to at least five other states, including North Carolina and Georgia, though organizers have not disclosed the exact schedule. The work was designed by Kaleida Hologram Co. — an international firm that has done work for major brands such as Netflix, Nike and Audi — and the projection was handled by Quince Imaging of Sterling, Va.

Rodney Floyd said the effort has helped his family members cope with their anger and grief.

“I’m just happy that so many people put this together, knowing that, ‘Hey, we’re fighting for you, your brother’s death has struck all of us,’­ ” he said. “It means so much to me, I don’t even have the words right now.”

Several hundred people gathered around the statue as dusk fell. Members of the Floyd family stood on the graffiti-covered steps of the monument to receive greetings from an African heritage group called Untold RVA.

“We honor you and your family for the spirit that you brought to us today, and we will always remember George Floyd,” a group leader named Mama Shakila said as she presented ceremonial necklaces to Floyd family members.

And the projection fit into the debate going on in Richmond about how to replace the Confederate statues that once stood all around the city, but which Stoney has mostly removed. For several weeks now, local artists have been projecting civil rights-related images onto the bases where the statues once stood.

Earlier Tuesday, Stoney rolled out plans for another set of landmarks to signal a more-inclusive era in the city.

He announced that he was seeking to put $25 million to $50 million into the city’s capital improvement plan to fund memorials in the Shockoe Bottom area — site of the second-busiest slave market in the Southern states before the Civil War.

Richmond has struggled for years with what to do about Shockoe Bottom, an up-and-coming area of restaurants and clubs that has an ugly history. The site of the notorious Lumpkin’s slave jail is marked but has not been excavated, and African American burial sites are nearby but not well-memorialized.

On Tuesday, Stoney proposed an initial $3.5 million investment in a Shockoe Memorial Park, which would “use greenspace and structural sites such a heritage center or museum to create a space of memorialization, education and atonement,” according to a news release.

“In this city, we care about our history. We are our history, no matter how painful that may be to confront, and we are committed to telling our full story,” Stoney said during a news conference at one of the Shockoe sites. “That story, and so rightfully that investment, begins here, on the ground of Shockoe, and in honor of our ancestors.”

The overall plan will need the approval of the Richmond City Council. Stoney is seeking reelection this fall, so the project’s fate could be uncertain if the city changes leadership and a new mayor has a different vision.

Northam’s case for removing Lee statue was devised by lawyer descended from slaves

Confederate memorials quietly removed from Virginia Capitol overnight

Loading...