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A Jefferson Davis monument on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. The bronze was toppled by protesters last month. (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

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’s governor ordered the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, but a state judged blocked the move pending further hearings. (photo by Will Fisher via Flickr)

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.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...

One reply on “Bypassing Impending City Council Vote, Richmond Mayor Orders Removal of Confederate Monuments”

  1. Richmond may have been the capital of the Confederacy but Lexington, Virginia, where both Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson are buried, remains ground zero for the Confederate “lost cause.” The small liberal arts college named for George Washington who was an early benefactor of the school and Lee, who served as President of the college for five years following the Civil War, Washington and Lee, along with Virginia Military Institute (VMI), are the economic and cultural engines for Lexington and the lower Shenandoah Valley. There are currently at least two petitions in circulation among faculty and students to change W&L’s name (It was founded as Liberty Hall Academy, though a new name is yet to be put forward). A number of former students, myself included, have advocated for a new name since at least Charlottesville and likely dating back to when the school first admitted African-American students in the late sixties. The school plans to convert Lee Chapel (where Lee is buried) into a museum of institutional history; W&L is among the oldest colleges in the country and its role in the sweep of Southern educational history is significant, especially during Reconstruction and the Jim Crow eras. Lee’s story will certainly be central to that history, less as monument (his recumbent effigy is housed there) than as cautionary tale. I wrote to University President Will Dudley, in part, as follows:

    “Lee must not be forgotten–we can learn much from his racism and treason as well as Lee’s later efforts toward reconciliation and rebuilding. But he should no longer be honored or directly associated with a school that welcomes change and desires a leadership role in higher education. If Lee’s name and presence—and all the pain he represents to millions of Americans of all races–are finally laid to rest, then the School can not only participate in but help lead a country that is beginning to understand what e pluribus unum means, to say nothing of honoring the school’s own motto: non incautus futuri. “Not unmindful of the future” is not about erasing the past but attending to present, urgently needed change so that a future might even be possible.

    A name change will doubtless infuriate many former and perhaps current students and faculty; In all likelihood, it will negatively impact on present and near-term financial support for the University. But it will also open new doors to a future that openly acknowledges and celebrates values that matter in making a new, multi-racial classroom, a place where learning includes–no, embraces–difference and transformative possibility. While, perhaps, more controversial than the decision to admit women not so long ago, a new name will undoubtedly mean newer voices; stronger, more diverse programs; more justly deserved levels of support from all future generations of students, scholars, and donors.

    Let Lee remain in the shadows–furl the battle flags, close the door, turn off the lights. He will still belong to the University’s brutal, slavery-steeped backstory, but henceforth serving as constant reminder that racism afflicts white and black alike–albeit in degree and proximity that are light years distant from each other. That even old schools can learn from their own awful, bloodstained, and soul-stealing “lost causes.”
    Chris Crosman ’68

    PS Ever notice how France celebrates its artists instead of military heroes? “Pays de Cezanne…” on a roadside marker looking across the valley in Aix-en-Provence toward his constant motif and muse, Mont Sainte-Victoire.”

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