Richmond mayor orders removal of Confederate statues, starting with “Stonewall” Jackson

A protester cheers in the rain as crew members lower the Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson statue from its pedestal. Photo by Megan Lee

Eduardo Acevedo, News Editor
Hannah Eason, Managing Editor

Hundreds of onlookers gathered around the Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statue in Richmond in the heat and pouring rain Wednesday to watch a monument to the Confederacy be removed.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the immediate removal of all Confederate statues on Wednesday, hours after Richmond City Council declined to vote on a resolution to remove the monuments.

Stoney posted a video on Twitter declaring the statues’ removal in Richmond shortly after crews arrived at the Stonewall Jackson statue on Monument Avenue.

In the video, Stoney cited public safety as a reason to remove the statues. Protesters have attempted to pull down monuments in large crowds during recent demonstrations, increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19.

“As the capital city of Virginia, we have needed to turn this page for decades,” Stoney said, “and today, we will.” 

Dark clouds formed in the sky as cranes scaled the Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statue. Photo by Megan Lee

Stoney said he has the authority to remove the statues as director of the city’s Emergency Operations Plan. 

Unmarked police cars, a crane and several semi-trailer trucks with statue removal equipment blocked the intersection of Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Monument Avenue at 1 p.m. where the statue honoring Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson stood.

The construction crew took more than three and a half hours to saw off the bolts of the statue from the pedestal and lift it from the monument. Around the third hour, a heavy thunderstorm hit Richmond but did not slow the removal of the Confederate monument.

A state of emergency for Richmond was declared by the city on May 29, at Stoney’s request, as a result of ongoing protests and civil unrest. Gov. Ralph Northam declared a similar state of emergency on May 31 for the same reason, and extended it to July 30 on Tuesday. The code of Virginia authorizes the director of emergency management to “protect the health and safety of persons and property.”

The Richmond City Council introduced Stoney’s resolution to remove Confederate statues during a virtual meeting on Wednesday morning. Councilmembers did not vote on the removal. City Councilmember Stephanie Lynch requested a vote to determine support for the declaration, but that vote was not made.

During the City Council meeting, protesters gathered in the courtyard of the John Marshall Courts building to protest the end of the eviction freeze in Virginia. Gov. Northam paused evictions across the state on June 8 due to COVID-19. Police pepper sprayed protesters Wednesday, and at least one protester was detained.

A special meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Thursday, where councilmembers are expected to vote on the resolution. The meeting time met the 24-hour required notice for city council special meetings.

Voice actor Mike Henry, who grew up and lives in Richmond, looks up at the Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statue. Henry voiced the character Cleveland on “Family Guy” for 20 years before stepping down from the role in June. Photo by Megan Lee

Stoney said it would cost the Department of Public Works $1.8 million to remove the statues. The mayor said he expects the city to be reimbursed through a fund set up by private and philanthropic efforts. During the meeting, 3rd District City Councilman Chris Hilbert offered to contribute to the reimbursement fund.

The council’s agenda for Wednesday listed the introduction of legislation related to monument removal and police reform. There was confusion among councilmembers over the legality of voting on said legislation during the meeting, but the council determined that a vote would be made during Thursday’s meeting.

“Madam President, I am disappointed that there’s not a path forward to vote on this resolution today,” Lynch said, “and I would agree with the mayor that … the resolution that he is bringing before us is germane to the agenda.”

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