Richmond brought down its Confederate statues. But not everyone left.



RICHMOND — The scars where Confederate statues once stood along Monument Avenue are now covered in sidewalks or landscaping, and social justice protests have largely died down. But just across town, a statue of rebel General AP Hill still dominates one of Richmond’s busiest intersections.

Outside the State Capitol, whose chambers were emptied of Confederate iconography one night in 2020, General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson still stands in bronze atop a stone pedestal.

To his left, along Capitol Square: a statue of Hunter Holmes McGuire, the Confederate doctor who amputated Jackson’s arm and was a lifelong advocate of slavery. To Jackson’s right: William “Extra Billy” Smith, who served as governor before and after serving as a Confederate general.

Richmond has drawn international attention for its efforts to confront the legacy of slavery and the Civil War, with some of its toppled icons now reinterpreted in museums or hidden away in warehouses. But the work of clearing public spaces of the symbols of a “lost cause” remains unfinished two years after the fall of the first monument.

The remaining numbers testify to the depth of Confederate heritage in the Richmond landscape, lingering despite the widespread feeling that they should go. The topic surfaced again this month when Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who took office in January, appointed a historian defending the statues to the State Board of Historic Resources.

The council — which primarily handles historic landmark designations and oversees historic markers — played no role in the removal of Confederate statues. But Ann Hunter McLean’s nomination has raised questions about Youngkin’s intentions to change course from his predecessor, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who led efforts to remove Confederate memorials from land owned by the State.

When asked if Youngkin would seek to remove the remaining statues or restore those that were taken down from inside the Capitol, spokeswoman Macaulay Porter replied in a written statement that “he strongly believes that we do not must not airbrush our history. The Governor believes we should not ignore or excuse the sins of our past, but we should resist the movement to clean up our history.

Porter added that “the decisions to remove the statues were decisions made by previous administrations and politicians. Today, the governor focuses on inflation, education, and rising crime in Virginia.

State Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond), who heads the General Assembly’s Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission, said removing racist statues “is not whitewashing history.” We teach history in school…but what we choose to commemorate in public spaces must reflect the public’s values.

The fact that many are staying in prominent places is a measure of the work that hasn’t been done, she said. “Progress takes time, and Virginia in general and Richmond in particular have had a lot of [memorials] … There was pretty deep-rooted support among the old guard white power structure and it just took this long to get over that.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney ordered a dozen Confederate memorials removed from city property in the summer of 2020, but Hill’s statue was a special case: it’s the only one standing above the mortal remains of his subject.

Hill was killed outside Petersburg in the closing days of the Civil War. His body was first buried in Chesterfield County, then dug up two years later and moved to Richmond Hollywood Cemetery. Finally, in 1891—with a large new statue of Robert E. Lee unveiled on what would become Monument Avenue—Hill was moved a third time to a memorial just north of town anchoring a suburban housing estate.

Perspective: Richmond tore down its statues – and revealed a new angle on the story

Today, the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road has a reputation as one of the most dangerous in Richmond, as traffic circles around the tall gray Statue Hill obstacle. Early last year, the city approved a plan to remove him, subject to consulting with his family to move the body.

City officials worked for months to identify and contact Hill’s indirect descendants – he had four daughters but no grandchildren – and in May this year asked a Circuit Court judge to approve a new burial. The city paid $1,000 for land at Fairview Cemetery in Culpeper, Hill’s hometown, and lined up a funeral home to handle the move.

The statue is believed to go to the Richmond Black History Museum, which oversees efforts to reuse all of the city’s toppled Civil War monuments. Most of the statues are stored under tight security in a water treatment facility, although the paint-splattered figure of Confederate President Jefferson Davis is on display off to the side at the Valentine Museum – the studio home where the likeness was created by sculptor Edward Valentin.

Monroe Harris, president of the Black History Museum, said several more pieces are set to be loaned for exhibition later this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

But on July 1, a separate group claiming descent from the Hill family filed an objection to the city’s plan for that statue. Represented by attorney S. Braxton Puryear, who has also been involved in court battles to save Confederate statues in Charlottesville, the group agrees with the city’s reburial effort but not with the handing over of the figure at the Museum.

Arguing that the site is a cemetery, Puryear’s court filing refers to the monument as a “headstone” and asserts that the city has no authority under state law to dispose of it. The statue is the “personal property” of the descendants, the filing states, and they “seek to be removed and moved to a place of dignity and discretion as a cenotaph for AP Hill.”

Puryear did not respond to a request for comment.

The City of Richmond filed a response Wednesday, denying that Puryear’s patrons can claim the statue and denying “that the intersection of Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road…is a cemetery.”

No hearing has yet been scheduled in this case. Stoney’s office declined to comment, but the city retained Team Henry – the same contractor who removed all other Confederate memorials around Richmond – and said in court papers the monument could be removed in less 10 days once the court gives the green light. .

Residents hoped the end would come soon. The Hermitage Road Historic District Association passed a resolution in June 2020 calling for the intersection to be cleared “promptly”. We understand that the reburial process may take longer, so we ask that the statue itself be removed as soon as possible. »

In Capitol Square, the three Confederate statues survived even when the General Assembly voted last year to eliminate another figure in the square: Harry Flood Byrd, the former governor and U.S. senator who led the movement for massive resistance against school integration.

The old Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk), who sponsored Byrd’s bill, said he had hoped to include the Jackson, McGuire and Smith statues as well, but aides told him their jurisdiction was unclear. “I understand there is a patchwork system of which entities are responsible for which statues” in Capitol Square, Jones said.

Of the. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax), who served as House Speaker during the Democratic majority in the 2020 and 2021 sessions, ordered Confederate statues and busts removed from House-controlled areas inside of the Capitol in 2020. Workers carried them out in the middle of the night for safety reasons.

Filler-Corn said she determined she had no authority over the statues outside the building, which most likely belonged to the governor. “People asked about these other statues and I knew I didn’t have the power or the skill to remove them,” she said.

Clark Mercer, who as Northam’s chief of staff was instrumental in removing the giant statue of Lee from state property on Monument Avenue, said he believed the governor and the legislature reportedly moved to remove the trio from Capitol Square. And after a nearly 18-month legal battle over Lee that ended in the state Supreme Court, Mercer said the Northam administration essentially ran out of time.

“Lee was our primary focus because it was the largest and most imposing monument to the lost cause in the world,” Mercer said. He noted that Northam removed language from an arch honoring Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Fort Monroe in Hampton in 2019 – a year before social justice protests that led to the downfall of others – and quietly laid the groundwork. to remove Lee shortly after taking office in 2018.

“Maybe we ran out of time, but we also had to prioritize,” he said.

Mercer and McClellan both suggested that while Jackson’s statue remains in its place for the time being, new signage could help put it in its historical context. Unlike the Hill memorial and those on Monument Avenue, all of which were built during the Jim Crow era, the Jackson figure in Capitol Square was commissioned while the Civil War was still ongoing.

A group of Jackson admirers in Britain funded the piece after the general’s death in 1863, but plans to ship it to Virginia were halted when the war ended. Confederate veterans helped revive the effort several years later; at that time, reconstruction was in full swing. Ten black members of the House of Delegates joined three white Republican colleagues in voting against spending state money to receive the statue, according to researchers at the Library of Virginia. They lost.

When the memorial was unveiled in front of thousands of onlookers in 1875, plans called for members of the black militia to join the honorary procession, but Confederate General Jubal Early stopped him. The presence of black troops would be “an indignity to Jackson’s memory and an insult to all Confederates who attend the dedication of the statue,” Early wrote to organizers, according to the Library of Virginia.

On a recent weekday, a small group of Segway tourists pulled up outside the Capitol to take a look at the row of statues. Grace and Michael Contopoulos and their two children, visiting from Westchester, NY, knew the memorials had come down Monument Avenue and were surprised to see them still standing.

“I would rather they weren’t here, personally,” said Michael, 44.

Son Miles, 15, was more blunt: “For all I care, bronze could be melted down and put in cars.”


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