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Mayor Stoney makes removing Confederate statues an option

8/18/2017, 2:42 a.m.
Under mounting public pressure, Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney changed course on Wednesday, announcing that the Monument Avenue Commission will ...
Mayor Stoney Regina H. Boone/Richmond Free Press

By Saraya Wintersmith

Under mounting public pressure, Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney changed course on Wednesday, announcing that the Monument Avenue Commission will now consider the option of removing Confederate statues along Monument Avenue.

“Effective immediately, the Monument Avenue Commission will include an examination of the removal and/or relocation of some or all of the Confederate statues,” the mayor said in a statement issued about 5 p.m. Wednesday.

“While we had hoped to use this process to educate Virginians about the history behind these monuments, the events of the last week have fundamentally changed our ability to do so by revealing their power to serve as a rallying point for division and intolerance and violence.”

Bloody clashes erupted in Charlottesville last weekend between white supremacists groups gathered to protect statues of Confederate generals in public parks, and counterprotesters who view the statues as symbols of hatred and oppression. One woman who went to the rally in support of counterprotesters was killed, and 19 other people were injured, when a white nationalist sympathizer drove his car into the crowd.

The violence and death, broadcast on television, stunned the nation and has tipped the scales for many cities grappling with what do with Jim Crow-era statues of Confederates on public land.

“Let me be clear: We will not tolerate allowing these statues and their history to be used as pretext for hate and violence, or to allow our city to be threatened by white supremacists and neo-Nazi thugs. We will protect our city and keep our residents safe,” Mayor Stoney’s statement read.

Earlier in the week, the mayor had doubled down on his effort to simply add “context” to the monuments of Confederates Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis and Matthew Fontaine Maury.

“For me, it’s about telling the complete truth,” Mayor Stoney said Monday at the groundbreaking for the new American Civil War Museum on Tredegar Street.

Mayor Stoney consistently has expressed distaste for the Confederate monuments, saying in his statement Wednesday that “I wish they had never been built.”

But he said on Monday that he didn’t think removal of symbols “does anything for telling the actual truth or changes the state and culture of racism in this country today.”

On Monday, he vowed to focus on “taking down the vestiges of Jim Crow” in public housing and public education.

Just hours before Mayor Stoney’s change on Wednesday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ralph Northam added his voice to the growing chorus of national leaders calling for Confederate tributes to be removed and possibly housed in protected galleries.

“I believe these statues should be taken down and moved into museums,” Dr. Northam said in a statement. He also promised to be a “vocal advocate” for Confederate statue relocation and said more should be done to memorialize civil rights heroes like Barbara Johns and Oliver Hill.

In response, and before Mayor Stoney issued his statement, Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie pointed to Richmond as a “good example” for other cities to follow when dealing with Confederate monuments.