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Ethics & Religion
Column #2,079
June 16, 2021
Richmond Columnist Wins Pulitzer Prize
by Mike McManus

Michael Paul Williams, a Black columnist of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of "penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former capital of the Confederacy, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling the city's monuments to white supremacy."

The Pulitzer Prize has been the highest honor for U.S. journalists for 105 years.

When Richmond removed a statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson, Williams wrote "No good can come out of defining ourselves by four of the bloodiest years in the nation's history and honoring, in our most prominent spaces, agents of treason and enslavement. Removal of this monument and others will expand our imagination about what we can and should be."

In another column he wrote "This is our moment of truth to create a legitimate cause out of a lost one."

Paul Farrell, the president and publisher of the Times-Dispatch, issued this statement: "In 2020 the murder of George Floyd ignited anger and frustration across our country and our city. Michael Paul's commentary served as the centerpiece of our newsroom's coverage of Richmond's legacy of inequity with a voice that spoke to the trauma of yesterday and the hope for tomorrow."

When Michael Paul Williams proposed writing a column in 1992 he noted that none of the paper's columnists were Black and able to addresses issues of race in a predominantly Black city. Around the paper's office, he is admired, respected and liked. "His laugh fills the room."

After he won the award, amidst colleagues sipping champagne, Williams, speaking for many, asserted, "In the midst of all this hardship of the past year, I have so much hope."

What did the columnist write in 2020 that sparked the award?

On June 4 Williams asserted, "The Lost Cause is dead. Let's dismantle its legacy beyond the symbols...Richmond has become so fixated at carrying the weight of history that it failed to realize what a burden it was, until the demonstrators made it impossible to ignore."

On June 9 he argued, "Resistance to change is the Virginia way. Now is no time for a victory lap. Removing Confederate statues from Monument Avenue always was going to be a fight - and a prelude to the much more difficult task of purging the legacy of white supremacy... Irreparable harm already has been done to Virginia's black citizens, whose ancestors had no real say in the creation of these tributes to men who fought to rip the Union asunder in defense of slavery...When it comes to Confederate propagandists, it's hard to top the city of Richmond and the commonwealth of Virginia. It's past time for both to get out of the hate crime business..."

And on July 1 he asserted, "For more than a century, the larger-than-life bronze of Stonewall Jackson towered above one of our most prominent intersections, a symbol of Richmond's immutability. He quoted Col. Robert E. Lee's grandson of the general at the Oct. 11, 1919 unveiling of the monument: "We place today on a high pedestal Virginia's flawless knight.'"

There's no question that Williams offered a powerful testimony from a man whose own ancestors were enslaved. The tortured killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a policeman's kneeling on his throat for more than nine minutes - touched off protests across America in dozens of cities including Richmond over many weeks.

Williams wrote after receiving the award, that "Protestors took an exhilarating and breathtakingly creative stand for social justice at their physical peril. A city that for more than a century had taken unjustifiable pride in an avenue whose iconography embodied white supremacy finally realized that it could no longer tolerate such an ugly embrace. A Richmond that once had shown little interest in introspection began interrogating its history and everything it thought it valued."

Two concrete results of his column: First and most important was the removal of statues of four Confederate generals such as Stonewall Jackson. Secondly, the street over which Stonewall presided - had its name changed to Arthur Ashe Boulevard to honor the Richmond-born tennis champion and human rights activist - thanks to an earlier Williams column proposing the name change.

However, the statue of Robert E Lee has yet to come down.

Williams is right in demanding that "We must leave our Confederate monuments behind. There's no logical or moral reason to further celebrate treason in service or the buying and selling and enslavement of human beings. There never was."

Michael Paul Williams earned his Pulitzer Prize, and America is stronger today thanks to his passionate commentary.


Copyright (c)2021 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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