As activists and advocacy groups protest longstanding monuments glorifying slavery, colonialism, and racism, some are coming down with relatively little struggle: yesterday, the mayor of Richmond, Virginia ordered the immediate removal of all remaining Confederate statues, bypassing an upcoming City Council vote on the decision.
“It is time to put an end to the lost cause and to fully embrace the righteous cause,” said Mayor Levar Stoney, a Black Democrat, in a City Council meeting held virtually on Wednesday. He went on to argue that allowing the statues to remain would pose a “severe and growing threat to public safety,” encouraging large gatherings that could spread the coronavirus or result in injury if protesters attempt to take them down.
On Wednesday afternoon, a statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was taken down from Richmond’s Monument Avenue under Stoney’s orders, and a sculpture of naval officer Matthew Fontaine Maury was removed this morning. A total of 11 monuments will be brought down in Richmond in the coming days, Stoney confirmed in a media briefing today.
The Richmond City Council was scheduled to vote on the statues’ removal yesterday morning, but when procedural issues postponed the vote, the mayor made the call based on his position as the city’s Director of Emergency Management.
Virginia was the capital city of the Confederacy during the American Civil War and is known for having the most Confederate monuments in the US — but it is now leading the country in their removal. A century-old law prohibiting the removal of war monuments in Virginia was reversed after Democrats took control of both the House and Senate in 2019 and passed a bill giving localities permission to remove Confederate statues earlier this year.
One statue, however, has proved particularly challenging: that of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, also part of Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam intended to have the sculpture removed but was met with resistance from a Virginia judge, who blocked the governor’s efforts last month, citing a number of pending lawsuits. The bronze figure is the largest on Monument Avenue and is particularly symbolic as one of the first to be erected in the South, in 1890.
“Once we remove the remaining monuments, we can officially say that we were the former capital of the confederacy,” said Stoney in today’s briefing.