VIRGINIA: Committee: Remove Jefferson Davis Monument, Reinterpret Others

Mayor Levar Stoney formed a panel in July 2017, asking for a recommendation on how to add context to Confederate statues on Monument Avenue. He later expanded the options to include removal or relocation of the statues.
BOB BROWN/times-dispatch


RICHMOND, Va. — Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s Monument Avenue Commission recommended the removal of the Jefferson Davis Monument from Monument Avenue and the addition of signage to the other four statues honoring the Confederacy, according to a report released Monday.

After gathering public input for 11 months, the 10-person commission recommended reinterpreting the four of the statues with permanent signage in the short term and the creation of a museum exhibit, mobile app and video to convey the history of the monuments and what they stand for, the report stated. The commission singled out Davis for removal if pending legal challenges are resolved and state law changes to clear the way for its removal.

“A holistic narrative acknowledges the emotional realities the Monument Avenue statues represent as well as other assets within the City,” the report states. Of the Davis statue, the commissioners wrote: “Of all the statues, this one is most unabashedly Lost Cause in its design and sentiment.”

In a statement, Stoney said he would take the recommendations into consideration before determining his next steps.

“The Commission’s report is unequivocal in its affirmation that there is an overwhelming desire and belief they should not remain as they currently are,” Stoney said in the statement. “Something needs to change, and I could not agree more.”

The report comes about a year after Stoney formed the commission and charged it with recommending how the city could “add context” to the statues lining Monument Avenue, an approach the mayor said at the time was preferable to removing or relocating the monuments of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart and Stonewall Jackson, President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis and Confederate naval commander Matthew Fontaine Maury.

The commission held its first forum last August. More than 500 people showed up and many more were turned away. The meeting was tense. Tempers flared as organizers struggled to keep the dialogue civil and focused on the commission’s task of reinterpretation.

Then Charlottesville happened.

After Heather Heyer was killed and dozens of others were injured in the aftermath of a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August, Stoney expanded the commission’s charge to include consideration of removal or relocation of the statues. The mayor also canceled a September forum the commission had scheduled, citing safety concerns.

When the commission reconvened last November, its members decided to gather more input in small group meetings throughout the spring. It held six “listening sessions” with religious, heritage and community organizations between February and April. Four of the sessions were open to the public. Two were not.

The commission returned to the large-meeting format in May, when it held two forums that were open to the public. Its final report was due to Stoney at the end of May, but the mayor granted the commission a month-long extension.

Beyond the commission, there have been other efforts locally to reckon with the city’s Confederate iconography and symbols.

Councilman Michael Jones proposed a charter change that would give Council the authority to remove the statues. The Council voted it down in December. Jones vowed to reintroduce the measure after Stoney’s commission wrapped up its work. More recently, the Richmond School Board renamed J.E.B. Stuart Elementary school to Barack Obama Elementary last month.

Elsewhere, the Alexandria City Council late last month voted to strip Jefferson Davis’ name from a portion of Route 1 that runs through the Northern Virginia city.