Black History museum will decide fate of Richmond’s Confederate monuments

The Virginia capital's Monument Row once paid homage to men who fought to preserve slavery

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Last week, a Black-owned construction company began dismantling the remaining stone pedestals previously used to prop up massive Confederate statues that used to be centered on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.

City officials have tasked the leaders of their local Black History Museum & Cultural Center with deciding the fate of many of those statues, a choice that could take years, according to Marland Buckner, the museum’s interim director.

Richmond, Virginia Removes Statue Of Confederate General Robert E. Lee
The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is removed from its pedestal on Monument Avenue on September 8, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. The Commonwealth of Virginia is removing the largest Confederate statue remaining in the U.S. following authorization by all three branches of state government, including a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia. (Photo by Bob Brown – Pool/Getty Images)

“The first thing to remember is we are going to be very patient, mindful and deliberate about this process,” Buckner recently told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “We are not rushing into what will be a multiyear community engagement process.”

Richmond is the former capital of the Confederacy where a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was erected in 1890.

The sculpture was the centerpiece of what became known as Monument Avenue, a 14-block stretch of road that previously was lined with enormous monuments honoring former leaders of the Confederacy and its army.

Those leaders included generals J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, and Confederate President Jefferson Davis, according to the Washington Post.

In June 2020, after civil unrest erupted in Richmond following the police murder of George Floyd, former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, issued an order for the Lee statue to be removed.

Confederate statue thegrio.com
Crews prepare to remove one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, September 8, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. (Photo by Steve Helber – Pool/Getty Images)

A group of monument supporters responded by suing to block the statue’s removal, but Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled against them in September, according to the Washington Post.

City council members in Richmond authorized the removal of several other Monument Avenue Confederate statues last summer, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In December, leaders in Charlottesville, Virginia, where the deadly white supremacist Unite The Right rally took place in 2017, announced plans to melt down their city’s Robert E. Lee statue and turn it into a work of public art, according to CNN.

Buckner hasn’t ruled out doing something similar to the statues for which his museum is responsible.

“Everything’s on the table,” he said.

Detractors have questioned why the fate of Richmond’s monuments should be decided by a Black history museum, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Buckner rebuffed such criticism.

“Folks who have trouble understanding that have obviously never been in a position to fully understand at an immediate, personal level precisely what those monuments were designed to do,” he said.

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