Richmond Artist Reacts to Ashe Mural Vandalism as Suspect Arrested

On Oct. 20, 2021, two members of the American neo-Nazi organization Patriot Front filmed themselves vandalizing a mural of African-American tennis giant Arthur Ashe in Richmond, VA. The following year, Unicorn Riot published leaked video from within the organization which identified the perpetrators as Nathaniel J. Noyce of Glen Allen, VA and Thomas Dail of Wake, VA.

Both of these individuals and their organization face a series of civil lawsuits in connection to this and other acts of racially motivated vandalism and violence. Though no criminal charges have been filed in relation to the Arthur Ashe vandalism, on April 19, Noyce was arrested by the FBI in an unrelated case involving his alleged participation in the January 6 insurrection at the U.S Capitol building.

Earlier, on March 7, 2024, Unicorn Riot spoke with the artist who designed the mural, “Sir” James L. Thornhill, to learn more about its history and to get his initial reaction to the vandalism.

Despite the name, Thornhill is not a British knight; rather his name is an ode to 17th-century painter Sir James Thornhill, who was knighted by King George I.

Thornhill, a long time artist and native of Richmond is the founder of a local non-profit called the U.N.I.T.Y. project – an organization of local artists and entrepreneurs who have commissioned several public art pieces in the city of Richmond since 2017. The group states that the acronym U.N.I.T.Y. stands for Upholding, Networking and Inspiring Together in celebration of Yesterday.” Most the project’s artwork is located in the predominantly African-American neighborhood of Jackson Ward, which includes memorials dedicated to local legends and artistic messages of black empowerment.

When asked about his initial reaction to the racist vandalism Thornhill said, “it broke my heart…these paintings aren’t bothering anyone but because of your hatred you come into the community and you spray over work.”

The city of Richmond quickly responded to the vandalism by immediately painting over the wall, which Thornhill was initially opposed to, as he wanted to be the first one to respond and re-paint the mural, but upon seeing that the vandals had spray-painted stencils of Patriot Front’s logos over the mural he gave his thanks to the city for “reacting so fast.”

Thornhill and the U.N.I.T.Y. project would later return to the site to re-paint the mural. When explaining his motivation for doing so he said, “If we just leave this painted over what kind of example does that set for the community?”

The Legacy of Arthur Ashe and Jackson Ward

The African-American neighborhood of Jackson Ward in Richmond has a long documented history of being a economic and cultural hub for African-Americans. After the end of the American Civil War, freed slaves turned the area into an thriving business community for black entrepreneurs which was once known as “Black Wall Street.” [Note: This name was also later given to two separate African-American neighborhoods in Durham, NC and Tulsa, OK.]

Jackson Ward also has a notable reputation for producing a long list of prominent public figures, not least of whom include Arthur Ashe Jr.

Born to Arthur Ashe Sr and Mattie Cordell Cunningham Ashe in 1943, Arthur Ashe would later become one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport. His career began at a time when America’s racist segregationist laws were gradually being challenged, and the civil rights movement was in full swing. From the the very beginning of his career, Ashe had experienced significant racism. In 1960 he was banned from even using Richmond’s “whites only” indoor tennis courts and competing with white youth athletes. Due to the immense political pressure being exerted by the civil rights movement at the time however, that rule would be reversed the following year. This allowed Ashe to compete in the previously segregated U.S. Interscholastic tournament — a tournament he would go on to win for his high school in the same year. Early on in his career, Ashe cemented his status as a trailblazer and a symbol of hope to many within the black and POC community. To date he remains the only man of African decent to win what is arguably the most prestigious title in tennis — the Wimbledon Championships.

Beyond his gifted athleticism, however, Ashe was also a high-profile activist, advocating for the civil rights of black people both in his home country and around the world. He was arrested twice for his activism; first, at the South African Embassy in Washington D.C. protesting against that country’s racist Apartheid political system, and again at the White House for the rights of Haitian refugees to enter the country as asylum seekers.

Ashe, like his parents, had severe cardiovascular issues and had to undergo numerous heart surgeries. In September of 1988, he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS — possibly from a blood transfusion that he received during his second heart surgery. Four years later in 1992, he would publicly announce that he had AIDS. He ultimately died from that illness a year later on February, 10, 1993.

In his later years Ashe became a public health advocate, working to raise general awareness to the issues of heart health and the ongoing AIDS pandemic (source: Wikipedia)

Last Man Standing on ‘Monument Ave’

During the American Civil War, the city of Richmond served as the first capital city for the insurrectionist Confederate States of America — a confederation maintained around their collective desire to maintain the slave economy and American white supremacy. Some 35 years after the Confederation’s defeat, beginning in 1900 to 1925, the city of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia constructed a series of monuments dedicated to the memory of infamous fallen Confederate figures like Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. The street on which these monuments were constructed is known as ‘Monument Avenue.’ The last and only non-Confederate statue built on Monument Avenue is that of Arthur Ashe, which was unveiled in 1996.

(source: Dr. Sarah Beetham and Dr. Steven Zucker, “Monument Avenue and the Lost Cause,” in Smarthistory, September 10, 2021, accessed April 24, 2024,

During the 2020 Minneapolis protests against the police murder of George Floyd, between May 29 and August of that year a wave of solidarity protests erupted in Richmond. In the process, most if not all of Richmond’s Confederate statues were covered with graffiti artwork and messages like; “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” “ACAB (All Cops Are Bastards),” etc.

Protesters also succeeded in toppling the Jefferson Davis, Christopher Columbus and Williams Wickham statues. Both the city of Richmond and the Commonwealth of Virginia would later remove all of the remaining Confederate statues, with the last one coming down on September 8, 2021 – leaving the Arthur Ashe monument as the the sole remaining statue left on Monument Avenue. A little over a month later, Patriot Front members would go on to film themselves defacing the Arthur Ashe tunnel mural.

Arthur Ashe Statue Memorial on Monument Avenue — March, 7 2024

Patriot Front is currently involved in at least 4 separate civil lawsuits involving incidents in Richmond, Virginia, Fargo, South Dakota and Boston, Massachusetts. Although no criminal investigation was ever opened by any law enforcement agency in regards to the Ashe Mural vandalism on April 19, 2024, Nathaniel Noyce was arrested by the FBI in connection to his alleged crimes during the unrelated January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol building. He now faces a total of seven charges in relation to that incident including “striking a police officer,” inciting “Civil Disorder” etc.


Patriot Front has also filed its own lawsuit against an alleged former member that they say is the source of the leaks that revealed sensitive information about the organization to the public. The five un-named plaintiffs and members of Patriot Front claim that the leaks caused them to “lose their jobs, incomes and relationships with family members.”

The lawsuit in connection to the Ashe Mural vandalism was filed by a group of anonymous Richmond residents. The plaintiffs in that case have named 27 members of Patriot Front as being financially liable for the Arthur Ashe Mural vandalism. The list includes the perpetrators caught on film, along with Patriot Front leader’s Thomas Rousseau and Paul Gancarz. The other 23 defendants are only identified as “John Doe.”

Thornhill told Unicorn Riot that he wasn’t a part of any lawsuit, largely because the property where the vandalism occurred is owned not by him, but by the city. As a result he says that he couldn’t do much legally, but was still hopeful that justice would ultimately prevail.

“My satisfaction is that nobody was hurt, the mural still looks good, people are still coming through here[…] I’m not after any kind of monetary thing or to sue. These guys are gonna get what they deserve because they were in there filming themselves[…] they got caught and that’s the main thing.”

Sir James L. Thornhill

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