RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Stonewall Jackson was removed from his pedestal on Richmond’s Monument Avenue one year ago today. Crews removed the first of several Confederate monuments in the city as crowds gathered to watch in the rain.
Richmond was one of many communities across the nation that began a more in-depth reckoning with its past in the wake of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020. And in the river city, that reckoning included a renewed perspective on the removal of Confederate symbols and monuments.
Within days of Floyd’s death, protests erupted in Richmond with hundreds of people gathering to demand justice.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney acting as the Director of Emergency Management used his authority to begin removing Richmond’s Confederate monuments just over a month after the civil unrest started – but these weren’t the first statues to fall in 2020.
On June 6, a statue of General Williams Carter Wickham was toppled by protesters in Monroe Park. Three days later on June 9, protesters used ropes to pull down the Christopher Columbus statue in Byrd Park and then drug the statue into a nearby lake.
The next day, June 10, the Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue was torn down. We reported at the time that police responded to the incident and a heavy law enforcement presence and bystanders roared as they watched the toppled statue being towed away.
On July 1, Stoney officially called for the removal of Richmond’s 11 city-owned Confederate monuments still left standing. The first to be removed by the city was Stonewall Jackson, followed by Matthew Fontaine Maury and others.
Crowds gathered in the pouring rain to watch as crews worked for nearly four hours to remove the first of several Confederate monuments in the city. While many people rejoiced at the monument’s removal others adamantly opposed the change. The Republican Party of Virginia called on Stoney to resign from office for the decision.
The statues are no longer on display in Richmond but they are far from gone – they are being stored until Richmond City Council determines who the new owners of each monument will be. As of May 10, there were 22 requests to take ownership of the monuments. City Council was set to receive recommendations for the final disposition this month as well as a decision for the future of the monument’s pedestals.
Confederate General A.P. Hill’s statue still stands in the city’s northside and city leaders have taken steps to remove the monument, but this structure is more complicated than the other statues and monuments. Hill’s remains are buried underneath and his descendants are also involved in the relocation process.
A year later, controversy continues to surround Richmond’s monuments and relationship with race both in the past and present.
One monument still stands on Monument Avenue – Robert E. Lee. Unlike the other monuments that have been removed, the Lee monument is managed by the state instead of the city. Despite Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s order for the removal of the Lee monument, the statue remains in the center of a lengthy legal process.
On June 8, the Supreme Court of Virginia heard arguments challenging Northam’s order. Longtime residents of Monument Avenue are fighting to keep the statue standing and filed a lawsuit in Richmond Circuit Court. An attorney for the residents has argued that Gov. Northam does not have the authority to take down the statue.
In another lawsuit, William Gregory, a descendant of the landowners, argues that the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the statue.
The Deputy Clerk with the Supreme Court of Virginia said it could take weeks, even months, for a final decision to be reached. There is the possibility that an appeal could be filed with the U.S. Supreme Court, however, 8News Legal Analyst Russ Stone said it is “extremely unlikely.”
With Lee still remaining on his pedestal, the area around the statue became a gathering place in 2020 for people participating in the Black Lives Matter movement and its supporters. The area is refered to as Marcus David Peters Circle by some community members – they’ve erected a sign and a basketball hoop has popped up at the circle as well.
For months protesters regularly gathered there, at times against curfew or other regulations sparking conflict with police. Around a year later, debate remains surrounding the Richmond Police Department’s use of force near the monument during the summer months.
In May, Richmond’s top prosecutor, Colette McEachin, told 8News she is still awaiting a third party’s report and could still file charges against officers accused of teargassing peaceful protesters at the Robert E. Lee monument last June.