Richmond oversees Confederacy’s second fall
In early July, J.E.B. Stuart was lowered onto a flatbed truck, along with the horse he rode in on.
Following a summer of nationwide protests over racial injustice, Richmond removed the last of the city-owned Confederate statues on Monument Avenue on July 7. That left only the state-owned Robert E. Lee statue, which Gov. Ralph Northam plans to remove pending a legal battle.
After Richmond protesters toppled monuments to Jefferson Davis and Christopher Columbus in early June, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the emergency removal of 11 other Confederate statues on July 1, out of concern that protesters could be seriously injured taking down statues, as happened in Portsmouth in June.
The measure circumvented a new state law outlining a 60-day removal process. It also required the city, already hurting for revenue due to the coronavirus crisis, to spend an unbudgeted $1.8 million to remove the statues.
Stoney stated that removal funds would come from the city Department of Public Works’ budget, but that the city hoped to be reimbursed by private fundraising efforts.
The Fund to Move the Monuments, led by Richmond Realtor Shannon Harton, on behalf of the Maggie L. Walker Community Land Trust, was created to offset the costs. “Right now, our schools, our parks, our roads are paying for this and they already don’t have enough money,” says Harton. However, in its first three weeks, the fund had raised only $30,000 from around 450 donors.
Citing security concerns, Stoney initially refused to provide details about the removal, with his spokesman, Jim Nolan, saying, “We don’t measure doing the right thing in dollars and cents.” But later Stoney released documents indicating the removal was handled through NAH, a limited liability company formed on June 22 and registered by a Washington, D.C.-based attorney.
Council member and mayoral candidate Kimberly Gray has called for more transparency: “Knowing which contractors have been hired and what makes up that $1.8 million estimate — that’s public information.”
Besides, she says, Richmond’s underfunded public schools are just as much in need of emergency funding. She wonders if the city could have auctioned the statues to raise funds for the schools or paused the removal until enough private funds were available.
Ultimately, getting rid of the statues will be good for Richmond, says ChamberRVA CEO and President Brian Anderson. “As long as we can move to a place where we stand for what’s best for all people, we’ll do just fine economically.”
Devon Bortz contributed to this story.