Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Social Consciousness: Race and Class

BOND: Now, while you're the mayor, there are a couple of times where there are votes along racial lines. And your opponents charge, in effect -- although I guess they didn't use this term -- that you were playing the race card. That black people and black council members are voting one way only because they're black, not because the issue may be right, but these are racial votes. How do you respond to that?

MARSH: The obvious reasons – I mean, obvious answers to that – the five blacks came from the five lower socioeconomic districts in the city and our interests in public education. We had common interests in that. We had common interests in development of housing because the housing dilapidation was occurring in our communities. So if you just forget about race we had so much in common we would have voted that way anyway. That's one answer. The other answer is, of course, that we didn't do what they thought we were going to do. They thought we were going to do what they had been doing to us. They thought we were going to get revenge on them after all these years. And so they had secret commissions going down to Williamsburg to study ways in which they could keep their monuments on Monument Avenue. As if we would remove the monuments. You know the irony of this is that all of these negotiations were secret. The three of us on council and my team were not even advised on it. The five -- I mean, six whites were and the male was representing them, which is unlawful. And these secret commissions going down to Williamsburg to find out what we'd do if blacks took over. All those things were secret. We didn't even know about them later.

BOND: Did you ever in your heart of hearts think about removing those monuments?

MARSH: Oh, no. No. A funny story -- when I was mayor, I kept a secretary that the former mayor had. So she would give me my invitations. She said, "Of course, Mayor Marsh, you don't want this one." I said, "What is it?" She said, "Well, the Daughters of the Confederacy are having this assembly of the states in the Confederacy on Monument Avenue at the Jefferson Davis statue." So she'd throw it in a pile. I said, "Wait a minute. No, I want to go to that." She said, "You want to go to that?" I said, "Yes." I said, "I'm the mayor." So I went to that dedication. These little old ladies and everything and drinking tea. And they sent their note to the mayor, but I don't think they knew who the mayor was. And they were shocked to see me. I made them feel so at home, so welcome. They couldn't believe it. And I thanked them. I didn't tell a lie. I thanked them for coming to Richmond, that we're always glad to have people from outside, to come to Richmond, and help us with our economy. We want you to come back and enjoy yourself while you're here. And I said a whole lot of things that were true, but I never lied about being committed to Jefferson Davis or his values. And they were so pleased. They wrote her a letter. They just thanked me for coming. And I realize that I was the mayor of all the people. I don't have to agree with everybody. But they got a kick out of this ceremony, and I felt like I was going to act like the mayor and treat them with courtesy.