Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has ordered a city
commission to consider removing the city’s monuments to
Confederate leaders — an option for the statues that was
previously not being considered.
Stoney said he will not allow the city ‘to be
threatened by white supremacists and neo-Nazi
Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy and the
monuments are massive, and some of the oldest in the
A rally planned in support of the monuments has already
been canceled by organizers after white supremacists
descended on Charlottesville, Virginia and a woman was
RICHMOND, VA — Richmond, Virginia 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, is home to some of the nation’s
largest and oldest monuments memorializing Confederate leaders,
including Civil War generals Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, and
Stonewall Jackson; president of the Confederate States of America
Jefferson Davis; and Confederate naval commander Matthew Fontaine
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, Richmond
Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the commission to look
at removing the statues — an option that was formerly
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
All across the US, cities and town 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 was organized to protest the city’s plan to remove its
own Robert E. Lee monument. A group of students in Durham, North
Carolina took matters into their own hands on Monday night and
knocked a Confederate monument to the ground in front of the
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 up 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 behind the monuments.
He has been an outspoken critic of them, 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 whom they represent.
In June, a few months after taking office, Stoney formed the
Monument Avenue Commission to discuss the fate of the monuments.
The group is led by American Civil War Museum CEO Christy Coleman
and Library of Virginia Director of Education and Outreach Gregg
The commission has considered adding signage to existing
monuments, as well as 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 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 various ways to add context to
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 read. “And what can possibly change their present
context as tributes glorifying racist, un-American traitors …?”
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 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 protestors in the past, but they have yet to inspire
the kind of violence seen in Charlottesville this past
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 like the city might 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 on 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.