A small Confederate group held a rally Sunday across from the Jefferson Davis statue on Monument Avenue in protest of a city commission’s recommendation to remove the tribute that many consider a symbol of white supremacy.
The Monument Avenue Commission suggested the removal of the statue in July due to the fact that Davis was not from Richmond or Virginia, making the memorial “the most unabashedly Lost Cause in its design and sentiment.” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney established the commission last year.
This rally, held by the Virginia Task Force III% – Dixie Defenders, was the latest in a series of pro-Confederate demonstrations that began last summer. During last year’s Charlottesville march, 32-year-old Heather Heyer was killed when a protester drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. A left-wing march on Aug. 12 in Charlottesville sought to honor the anniversary of Heyer’s death.
Seema Sked, a counter-protester at Sunday’s event, said she has already attended a series of demonstrations responding to the presence of Confederate groups on Monument Avenue. She said she thinks she has attended every rally since September 2017, when more than 100 demonstrators overshadowed the pro-Confederate presence.
Sunday’s counter-protesters — who arrived early to take control of the area surrounding the monument — outnumbered the pro-Confederate group, which took the space on a grassy median across from the statue, about 3 to 1.
“I’m going to stand up to racism and bigotry for as long as I live because it’s just not right,” Sked said. “I know monuments coming down and symbols coming down do not fix the problem, but they are a step in the right direction.”
Several Confederate demonstrators were armed, with firearms hanging across their backs and rounds of ammunition stored in vest pockets.
“I’m all about love and acceptance and I don’t like when people show up to town or are in town and come try to intimidate folks,” Sked said.
Though Monument Avenue remained open to traffic, police — including the Richmond Mounted Unit — were present in the area surrounding the monument and nearby sidewalks. No arrests were made, nor were any protesters injured.
Janet Pilis, a member of the Dixie Defenders, said she and other group members are “far from being racist.” When asked how she thinks a Black person might feel walking by the Jefferson Davis monument, she responded that she has Black family members.
For Pilis and many other protestors, who refer to the Civil War as the “War of Northern Aggression,” the Confederate monuments represent southern heritage. They are not alone in their mentality; a 2015 McClatchy-Marist Poll found that 41 percent of Americans disagree that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War. This is despite the fact that — according to most of the southern states’ secession documents — slavery was the primary motivation for separation from the Union.
Pilis said she plans to attend the Sept. 15 rally on Monument Avenue to be hosted by the CSA II: The New Confederate States of America from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The group wrote on its Facebook page that the rally will honor the one-year anniversary of last September’s event.
“We’re not going to go away and not going to give up,” Pilis said.
Georgia Geen, Managing Editor