The ‘capital of the Confederacy’ is suddenly considering removing its massive Civil War monuments – Business Insider
Mayor Levar Stoney has ordered a city commission to
consider removing monuments to Confederate leaders in Richmond,
Virginia — an option that was previously not being
Stoney said he would not allow the city ‘to be
threatened by white supremacists and neo-Nazi thugs.’
Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, and its
monuments are massive and include some of the oldest in the
Organizers have already canceled a rally planned in
support of the monuments after white supremacists descended on
Charlottesville, Virginia, and a woman was killed.
RICHMOND, Virginia — Richmond is poised to become the next
battleground in the contentious debate over Confederate monuments
in the US.
The former capital of the Confederacy, located just 70 miles
southeast of Charlottesville, Virginia, is home to some of the
nation’s largest and oldest monuments memorializing Confederate
leaders, including Civil War Gens. Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart,
and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson; Confederate States of
America President Jefferson Davis; and Confederate naval Cmdr.
Matthew Fontaine Maury.
The towering bronze-and-stone statues, some of which stand more
than 60 feet tall, are all clustered along a 2-mile stretch of
Richmond’s tree-lined Monument Avenue, a wide four-lane boulevard
that cuts through the city’s center.
The National Park Service describes
the road as “the nation’s only grand residential boulevard
with monuments of its scale surviving almost unaltered to the
A Richmond city commission has been debating the fate of the
statues on Monument Avenue for months. Late Wednesday, Mayor
Levar Stoney ordered the commission to look at removing the
statues — an option that had been off the table.
“Effective immediately, the Monument Avenue Commission will
include an examination of the removal and/or relocation of some
or all of the confederate statues,” Stoney said. “Let me be
clear: We will not tolerate allowing these statues and their
history to be used as a pretext for hate and violence or to allow
our city to be threatened by white supremacists and neo-Nazi
Cities and towns across the US are tearing down statues amid
heated and sometimes violent protests against what critics say
they celebrate: slavery and Jim Crow-era oppression.
The deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville over the
weekend, in which a woman was fatally struck by a driver
identified by authorities as a Nazi sympathizer, was organized to
protest the city’s plan to remove a statue of Lee. A group of
students in Durham, North Carolina, took matters into their own
hands Monday night and knocked a Confederate monument to the
ground in front of the old Durham County Courthouse where it had
stood for more than a century. The following night, the city of
Baltimore surreptitiously removed several Confederate monuments
to avoid similar protests there.
But in Richmond, a city that clings tightly to its rich history,
government leaders — including Stoney until Wednesday — have
tried to keep the hulking Civil War memorials standing on
To be sure, Stoney has previously said he doesn’t agree with the
symbolism touted by the monuments’ advocates.
He has been an outspoken critic of the monuments, saying they
perpetuate a “false narrative” meant “to lionize the architects
and defenders of slavery” and “perpetuate the tyranny and terror
of Jim Crow and reassert a new era of white supremacy.”
But he has also repeatedly said he wants to find a way to
preserve them while adding more “context” to the structures — in
other words, make it clear through placards or other signage that
the statues are historical artifacts and not meant to be shrines
to the Confederate leaders they depict.
In June, a few months after taking office, Stoney formed the
commission to discuss the fate of the monuments. The group is led
by Christy Coleman, the CEO of the American Civil War Museum, and
Gregg Kimball, the director of education and outreach at the
Library of Virginia.
The commission has considered adding signage to existing
monuments and building more statues along the boulevard that
celebrate a more diverse range of American leaders.
That was part of the intent behind the 1996 erection of a statue
of Arthur Ashe Jr., the Richmond native who became the first
African-American man to win Wimbledon. The statue is the sixth of
Monument Avenue’s six. The rest are Confederate leaders.
“I think we should consider what Monument Avenue would look like
with a little more diversity,” Stoney said during a press
conference in June. “Right now, Arthur Ashe stands alone — and he
is the only true champion on that street.”
The commission met several times this summer, and now it’s
holding public hearings to discuss ways to add context to the
More than 500 people showed up to the first of two hearings last
week, and things got heated, according to the
Many groups, including the Richmond Free Press, the city’s
largest black-owned media outlet, are unhappy with proposals to
add context to the statues and want the city to tear down the
In an editorial,
the outlet equated adding context to “putting lipstick on a pig.”
“What context can possibly change the statues’ meaning and
message from what was meant when they were erected following a
bloody Civil War fought to keep black people in bondage?” the
editorial said, also asking “what can possibly change their
present context as tributes glorifying racist, un-American
Some Confederate heritage groups and historians are also against
the idea of adding context. They say the monuments should be left
During last week’s hearing, B. Frank Earnest Sr., a
representative of the Virginia chapter of the Sons of Confederate
Veterans, said it’s clear that the statues memorialize people who
sacrificed their lives during a war, “Not some silliness about
Jim Crow and trying to bring back slavery or whatever silliness
they think it is,” the Times-Dispatch reported.
For now, the fate of the monuments, which were erected decades
after the Civil War ended, between 1890 and 1930, is more
uncertain than ever before.
“While we had hoped to use this process to educate Virginians
about the history behind these monuments, the events of the last
week may have fundamentally changed our ability to do so by
revealing their power to serve as a rallying point for division
and intolerance and violence,” Stoney said Wednesday.
The Monument Avenue statues have been targeted and even defaced
by protesters in the past, but they have yet to inspire the kind
of violence seen in Charlottesville this past weekend.
Following the presidential election in November, protesters
spray-painted “your vote was a hate crime” across two of the
monuments. More recently, on Sunday night, hundreds of people
descended on Monument Avenue chanting “tear
the racist statues down.”
One man climbed onto the J.E.B. Stuart statue and planted an
anti-fascist flag on Stuart’s horse.
It looked as if the city may be facing an even bigger rally next
month, following reports that a Confederate-heritage advocate had
filed a request to hold a rally at the Robert E. Lee memorial on
September 16, three days after the next public hearing regarding
But the request was rescinded Tuesday in the aftermath of the
“Due to the potential for violence after Charlottesville, the
rally on September 16 will not be held,” Bragdon Bowling, who
requested permission for the rally, told the
Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I do not want to be part of an
event where people are hurt or killed.”
The next public hearing on the statues is slated for September
13. Until then, the city is holding its collective breath in
hopes that nothing like what unfolded in Charlottesville descends
on Monument Avenue.