One hundred fifty-five years after Robert E. Lee surrendered, the former capital of the Confederacy is re-examining the painful legacy that it publicly memorialized on Monument Avenue.
The former capital, Richmond, Virginia, took down a statue of the Confederate general Stonewall Jackson on Wednesday after Mayor Levar Stoney used emergency powers to order its immediate removal, along with other Confederate statues on city property. A statue of Matthew Fontaine Maury, a Confederate naval officer and oceanographer, was removed Thursday as a crowd of people watched.
Stoney said in a video statement that his order was to “expedite the healing process for the city” as well as for public safety, after other statues had been torn down by protesters.
“We have needed to turn this page for decades,” he said.
As part of the nationwide racial upheaval after George Floyd was killed by the Minneapolis police, symbols of the Confederacy have been targeted by local governments and demonstrators.
In Richmond alone, people have toppled a Jefferson Davis statue; thrown one of Christopher Columbus into a lake; toppled the Howitzers Monument, which featured a Confederate artilleryman; and torn down a statue of William Carter Wickham, a Confederate general.
The Maury statue, titled “Pathfinder of the Seas,” depicts him seated below a globe. A U.S. congressman called last month for a hall honouring Maury at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, to be renamed.
Stoney said the removal process would take several days and that they would be kept in storage until the community decides their ultimate fate.
Until recently, there were six statues on Monument Avenue: Maury, Davis, Jackson, Lee, Confederate army officer J.E.B. Stuart, and Black tennis legend Arthur Ashe, who was added in 1996 in an effort to balance the avenue.
With the city’s removal of Jackson and Maury, and protesters’ toppling of Davis last month, Stuart and Lee are the last Confederate figures remaining.
Gov. Ralph Northam has ordered the removal of the Lee statue, which sits on state property in Richmond, but the process has stalled because of several lawsuits, The Associated Press reported.
Stoney, who is Black, said Richmond had been burdened with the legacy of the Confederacy since the end of its tenure as its capital city.
“The great weight of that burden has fallen on our residents of colour,” he said, adding that it “also placed a weight on all of our brothers and sisters who saw the unmet potential for Richmond to become an international example of a diverse, compassionate and inclusive community.”
Although the removal of the Stonewall Jackson statue was announced suddenly, crowds began to form shortly after a crane appeared on the street nearby. After about four hours, the statue was finally hoisted into the air.
“Everybody’s like screaming and clapping and yelling,” said Paul Finch, 29, a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University, who was on a friend’s porch overlooking the scene when the process began.
Virginia had more than 220 public memorials to the Confederacy, according to the governor’s office. A state law that went into effect Wednesday gives local governments the ability “to remove, relocate, or contextualize the monuments in their communities.”
“These monuments tell a particular version of history that doesn’t include everyone,” Northam said when he signed the legislation in April. “In Virginia, that version of history has been given prominence and authority for far too long.”
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