On the way | Richmond Free Press

When the giant monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee was erected 131 years ago, fiery Richmond Planet editor-in-chief John Mitchell Jr. described it as a monument that would pass on to future generations “a legacy of betrayal and blood ”.

Suddenly that legacy that seemed like a permanent fixture in the Richmond landscape is about to disappear, leaving an empty grassy circle, 200 feet in diameter, at the intersection of Monument and Allen avenues.

Since Monday, workers have installed scaffolding around the 40-foot-high granite base that once housed the 21-foot-tall statue of General Lee which was dismantled in early September.

Over the next few weeks, the team organized by Team Henry Enterprises – the same black-owned construction company that dismantled the statue – will be engaged in the painstaking work of dismantling the last remnant of this monument to white supremacy and its storage. .

“It’s about time,” said Richmond artist and clothing designer Brandon Fountain, who has visited the site almost daily since June 2020.

Around this time, the site became a regional epicenter of protest against racial injustice and police brutality following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police in late May 2020.

Mr. Fountain had created a garden on the site before the state fenced off the area to prevent people from entering, and he sees the removal of the pedestal as an opportunity to create “an inclusive and welcoming space for all.”

The base is still covered in colorful artwork condemning racism and the police and which has turned the circle into an activist centerpiece. An impressed New York Times ranked the pedestal as the most influential American protest artwork since World War II.

He had to stay put.

Gov. Ralph S. Northam ordered the statue to be removed in 2020, but had to wait 16 months to do so until a Virginia Supreme Court ruling in early September authorized the legal challenges . Governor Northam said at the time that the pedestal would remain, with its future to be determined by a community effort to reinvent Monument Avenue.

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is now in the early stages of this process, using $ 1 million in public funding.

The governor returned to the remaining pedestal on Sunday after Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney called for it to be removed and the land to be turned over to the City of Richmond.

“This land is in the middle of Richmond,” said the governor, clarifying his reshuffled position, “and the people of Richmond will determine the future of this space. The Commonwealth will remove the pedestal” and then begin the process of transferring the deed of ownership to the city.

Jim Nolan, the mayor’s press secretary, said the mayor “believes Richmond deserves a clean slate” as part of the process to make changes to this site and the rest of Monument Avenue.

The city withdrew four other Confederate statues it owned on Monument Avenue, and the city council also authorized the removal of the pedestals from these statues.

One of the reasons for the pullout appears to have been fears that the incoming administration of Republican governor-elect Glenn A. Youngkin and the new Republican majority in the House of Delegates will seek to sand the base’s graffiti and restore the statue.

In recent years, Republicans have vigorously led the charge of guarding statues and monuments in support of the Federal Con- Traitor’s effort to destroy the union to maintain slavery.

Although Governor Northam denied that it was a consideration, there was a hint of such concern in a statement by his spokesperson Alena Yarmosky: “It was important to us that we do this now. and before leaving office. “

The Virginia ACLU was among those disappointed with the governor’s decision to order the pedestal to be removed without any input from the public.

The First Amendment watchdog slammed the governor for reaching a secret deal on a pedestal “which was claimed by the community as a monument to racial justice” and on which the community “deserved to have a say “.

Portnoy Johnson, one of the few people who gathered to watch the work on Monday, called the pullout “bittersweet.” She said the statue had become a symbol of “the pain, emotion and sacrifice” of those who participated in the transformation.

Lawrence West, one of the founders of Black Lives Matter RVA whose members had occupied the circle, organized concerts and handed out food, said, “I’ve been saying for some time that this should go down.”

Mr West said as long as the pedestal was upright it was a potential battleground for those who were in favor of retaining the statue of Lee and those who wanted it removed.

Once that is gone, he said, “we can start to find common ground.”

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