The city decided to improve a canal dating back to George Washington's time with a 1.2 mile walkway lined with cafes, shops, and murals of the city's colorful history. The canal is ready, but the murals have caused an uproar.
"Richmond has a really unique and powerful history," explains the Richmond Historic Riverfront Foundation's Jim Rogers. "The Civil War is a major part of it, of course, but it's much broader than that."
Planners hoped to convey everything from Thomas Jefferson, to great floods, to the steelworkers who built the city. But the first mural to go up depicts Confederate General Robert E. Lee, a defender of the institution of slavery in the eyes of many African Americans.
Virgina Senator Henry Marsh says "When I looked at the slate of pictures on the wall, I was appalled!"
African Americans - who make up the majority of Richmond's population - were irate. Not only was a Confederate hero in such a prominent position, but black heroes were hardly depicted at all.
"There is so much more history that should be told," Marsh says. "And if you're gonna tell the true story of history, you should reflect the contributions of all Americans, not just Confederates."
Historian Edgar Toppin defends the selection.
"This is not a celebration," he says. "It was not to honor a given individual. This was to show representations of what the history was through all this period."
Even so, the city decided to take the mural down. This angered those who still see Lee as a hero, and it began to look like Richmond was ready to fight the Civil War all over again.
Richmond Mayor Timothy Kaine says "It's an interesting example of past and future which we wrestle with."
A past where Africans were brought in on ships and condemned to slavery, one also celebrated with statues of Confederate heroes. But according to the mayor, Richmond now wants to define itself as more than just the former capital of the Confederacy.
"So we're trying to be true to kind of who we are and where we've come from, and at the same time doing new things," Kaine says. "And striking that balance is, I guess, always the challenge."
As part of that balance, the canal planners offered new murals for public approval this week. Lee is still there, but shown alongside images of a defeated Confederacy - and an heroic freed slave.