The letters “BLM,” for Black Lives Matter, were later spray-painted over the initial graffiti

By Claudia Harmata
June 18, 2020 01:40 PM
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Credit: John McDonnell/The Washington Post/Getty

A statue honoring the late black tennis legend Arthur Ashe was vandalized with spray paint that read “WLM” and “White Lives Matter” on Wednesday in Richmond, Virginia.

Ashe, a Richmond native, is the only black man to ever win Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the Australian Open. Throughout his career, he was active in the civil rights movement and fought for racial equality until his death in 1993.

Witnesses say the man who tagged the monument wore a blue T-shirt, a dark red baseball cap and American flag bandanna around his face, The New York Times reported.

Later that day, the letters “BLM” for Black Lives Matter were spray-painted over the initial graffiti, according to several reports, and volunteers eventually showed up to clean the statue and removed all of the “White Lives Matter” writing.

However, the same man in the blue t-shirt came back to try and clean off the “BLM” letters.

“Why is it OK to spray paint on this statue ‘Black Lives Matter’ and not ‘White Lives Matter’? What’s the difference?” the man asked the group of people cleaning off his "WLM" graffiti, according to a video shared by Betsy Milburn on Twitter. “I’m not a racist, I just don’t agree with desecrating our property.”

When several bystanders began to point out that his "WLM" graffiti preceded the "BLM" tagging on the statue, he could be heard replying, "Everybody matters."

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“Everybody that is here that has property value, everybody here that has paid to live here and is tired of seeing this,” the unnamed man, who claimed to have grown up in the area, continued in the video.

Arthur Ashe wins Wimbledon
| Credit: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty

The monument of Ashe is one of six on Monument Avenue in Richmond. The other five statues commemorate Confederate leaders, including Robert E. Lee, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, Jefferson Davis, J.E.B. Stuart and Matthew Fontaine Maury.

Amid racial tensions and protests over the death of George Floyd, racial injustice and police brutality, protestors toppled the Davis statue last week.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam eventually ordered the Lee statue to be removed, and Mayor Levar Stoney later said he would propose the removal of the four other Confederate statues as well, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Ashe's statue on Monument Ave. was dedicated three years after his death. The tennis star's nephew, David Harris, Jr., told the Times that if his uncle was still alive today, he would be in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and ongoing protests.

“I think he would support Black Lives Matter because what we are dealing with is not police brutality, it is a myriad things that has been woven into the fabric of America,” Harris, Jr. said. “Some of those threads need to be yanked out.”

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

  • Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.
  • ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.
  • National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.