Officials in Richmond, Virginia, former capital of the Confederacy, are moving forward with a plan to get rid of a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis from the city's historic Monument Avenue, but they could be in for a fight.
In addition to permanently ousting Davis from his 12-foot granite pedestal, a Commission formed a year ago recommends re-contextualizing the other four monuments — of Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury — with new signs to explain when they came up, and why.
Mayor Levar M. Stoney formed the commission last summer to study what the city should do about its monuments, amid swirling national debate around Confederate symbols after a self-avowed white supremacist who embraced the iconography killed nine people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina.
All of the monuments lining Richmond’s Monument Avenue were erected in the late 1900s or early 20th century, long after the Civil War ended, as part of the “Cult of the Lost Cause.” That movement is led by historical revisionists who reject the notion that those who fought for the South during the Civil War were really fighting to preserve the institution of slavery. Critics say that they’re dog whistles to white supremacy.
Pro-Confederate groups plan to fight to keep the statues intact. “We feel it’s a destruction of heritage. It’s about heritage not hate,” said Thomas Crompton, “commanding general” of CSA II: New Confederate States of America. “We will continue to fight to keep those monuments up.”
The report, released Monday, describes some of the challenges that the Commission faced. For example, it quickly became clear to the Commission members that “there were groups organized to dominate the discussion” during their public listening sessions. A session on Aug. 9, 2017, drew 500 people. The meeting became a shouting match between those with opposing
points of view of “Leave them alone” or “take them down.”
Days later, plans to remove a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, just 70 miles from Richmond, drew hundreds of white nationalists and neo-Nazis to the small college town as part of the violent Unite the Right rally, which left one dead and dozens injured.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe declared a state of emergency. “With America in a state of shock, there was little denial for the majority that Confederate symbols and statuary were inextricably tied to white supremacy,” the report states.
After Charlottesville, city officials across the country scrambled to cover up or dismantle their own monuments to the Confederacy, fearing they might serve as flashpoints for future white nationalist rallies. Over 50 monuments were removed, vandalized, or covered up in the last two weeks of August. “In the interest of public safety, the Commission postponed its scheduled September 13, 2017 meeting to allow for a cooling-off period,” the report notes.
CSA II was among several Confederate groups that rallied in Richmond last September around the city’s own monument to Lee, despite Gov. McAuliffe’s executive order temporarily halting demonstrations around the statue. The rally was overall peaceful, according to reports from the scene, and there was a heavy police presence. Crompton said that they plan to return this September.
Richmond is cherished by neo-Confederates, who gather on Monument Avenue to observe general Robert E. Lee’s birthday, in January, or Virginia’s Confederate Memorial Day, which falls in May.