The last city-owned Confederate monument in Richmond, Virginia, has come down. The removal of General Ambrose P. Hill’s statue on December 12 marks the end of the city’s two-year push to take down public memorials of Confederate history.
“Richmond was home to more confederate statues than any city in the United States,” said Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney in a tweet. “Collectively, we have closed that chapter.”
Black-owned construction company Team Henry Enterprises took down the statue not long after rush hour to a crowd of residents and spectators who had campaigned for and against its removal. Hill’s remains, which had been reinterred at the base of the monument, were released to distant descendants who plan to move them to a family plot in Culpeper County.
As the former capital of the Confederacy, Richmond became a site for public memorials to control the narrative around Confederate history. The statue of Hill was erected at the busy intersection of Hermitage Road and West Laburnum Avenue in 1892 as a part of this crusade.
The deadly “United the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017 brought the monuments’ layered history and symbolism back to the forefront of public discourse. Calls for Confederate statues to be removed grew louder in May 2020, as historic protests swept the nation following the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police. Two miles from the Hill Statue on Monument Avenue, protestors toppled a Jefferson Davis statue a month later. They also turned the pedestal of an equestrian monument of Robert E. Lee, which was finally removed in September 2021, into a prominent work of protest art.
Conceptual artist and University of Richmond art professor Sandy Williams IV has campaigned to see the monuments dismantled since 2017. After the white supremacist rally, Williams began their Wax Monument series (2017–2021), which turned 3D scans of statues, including those of Lee and J. E. B. Stuart, into candles. Williams sold them to raise money for local Black youth organizations. At the time, monuments depicting the likenesses of Lee, Jackson, and others seemed so permanent that Williams wanted more agency for Black Southerners over public narratives around Civil War and Confederate history.
“People have been calling for the removal of those statues since they were first installed, and the work to battle entrenched white supremacy in our communities is far from over,” Williams told Hyperallergic.
After the Black Lives Matter protests, S. Ross Browne, a Richmond-based painter, was inspired by drone footage of the graffitied statue to create “The Surrender of Lee (Reverse Mandala)” in 2021. Recreating an aerial view of Lee’s statue and the graffitied messages at its base, Browne had a lot of time to take in and meditate on these monuments and their place in the public consciousness.
“There’s a mindset that would lead you to want to raise these monuments of terror to stake that claim over a whole body of people,” said Browne.
For the artist, the last statue coming down feels bittersweet. While the statue has been a symbol for Black people to “remember their place,” he doesn’t want residents to forget why they went up in the first place. Williams notes that removing the monuments is a step in the right direction, but just one rallying point in a national response to the injustices faced by people of color.
“When you whip the flesh off a human for wanting to breathe free air and wanting to read, you can’t sit there and pretend that something this vile can be truly amended with just the removal of a monument,” said Browne.
Richmond’s City Council decided to move the Hill statue to the Black History and Cultural Center of Virginia, which will also house several other monuments. The museum’s current location, the Leigh Street Armory, was the site of the nation’s only 19th-century armory for an African-American militia.