Confederate Sons: Arts Museum Wrecked Historic Site
by Donna C. Gregory
A local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is waging a new battle in Richmond. This time, it’s not a War Between the States, but a war with the state and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The Confederate Veterans’ Lee-Jackson Camp No. 1 filed a lawsuit against the state in late April after VMFA demolished a carriage house and several trees at the R.E. Lee Camp Confederate Memorial Park just off the Boulevard to make way for a new parking deck part of VMFA’s $121 million expansion.In doing so, Virginia violated a decades-old agreement to preserve the park site in honor of Confederate veterans, charges attorney and lifelong Sons of Confederate Veterans member Bobby Lamb.
“This suit from our perspective is about the honor of the commonwealth of Virginia,” Lamb says. “You can’t just come up with a contract and then impair it at your whim without some recourse.”
In 1932, the Camp granted permission to the state to build the art museum at its current location in the Fan. In exchange, the General Assembly agreed to set aside a portion of the land for a memorial park.
At the time, the property in question was used as a soldiers’ home for disabled Confederate veterans. When the last veteran died in 1941, the soldiers’ home was converted into a park.
included a memorial chapel, the former home for soldiers called Fleming Hall, and the ill-fated carriage house to VMFA.
“The VMFA treats all the property as if it was theirs,” Lamb says. “The institution thinks they can bulldoze any opposition literally. The VMFA essentially hopes these veterans are dead and their voices are still. But they are mistaken, because they speak through us.”
VMFA officials declined to comment, deferring to the Virginia Attorney General’s office. “While we do represent VMFA and have filed the requisite response pleadings, we have been in discussions with both parties and are hopeful we can resolve this matter,” says David Clementson, a spokesman for Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell.
In its lawsuit, the camp is asking Richmond Circuit Court to halt any further construction at the park and restore the oak trees and monuments that were destroyed during demolition. They’re also calling for the restoration of Fleming Hall and monetary damages. A court date has not been set.
Lamb says he thinks of his great-grand uncle, who was wounded while fighting with the 9th Virginia Cavalry and lived at the soldiers’ home until his death in 1930. “He did his duty and he would expect me to do mine,” Lamb says, “and that’s what I’m doing.” S
Norfolk County Grays
"Victory is for those with the persistence and fortitude to resist the temptation to withdraw or whose resolve has been tempered, when conditions worsen and the cost rises. It is not for the weak hearted, nor those who are softened by the ease and comfort of a gilded cage, provided by the enemy at the cost of liberty." —
Elijah S. Coleman, Georgian