Black Lives Matter signs were seen in the crowd. Some chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” and sang, “Hey hey hey, goodbye.”
The statue was lowered to the ground where it was expected to be cut into pieces so that it can be brought to a secure location, where it will be stored until its final outcome is determined.
Governor Ralph Northam ordered the statue taken down last summer, citing the pain felt across the country over the death of African American George Floyd in Minnesota after a White police officer pressed his knee on his neck. But until a recent court ruling cleared the way, Northam’s plans had been tied up in lawsuits. Northam said his administration will seek public input on what should happen to the statue.
The statue, a 21-foot bronze equestrian sculpture that sits atop a pedestal nearly twice that tall, has towered above a prominent residential boulevard named Monument Avenue since 1890 in this former capital of the Confederacy.
“We put things on pedestals when we want people to look up,” Northam said in June 2020, when he announced the removal plan. “Think about the message that this sends to people coming from around the world to visit the capital city of one of the largest states in our country. Or to young children.”
After Floyd’s death, the area around the statue became a hub for protests and occasional clashes between police and demonstrators. The pedestal has been covered by constantly evolving, colorful graffiti, with many of the hand-painted messages denouncing police and demanding an end to systemic racism and inequality.
The changes have remade the prestigious avenue, which is lined with mansions and fancy apartments and is partly preserved as a National Historic Landmark district. Richmond officials aim to remove the pedestals and other remnants of the statuary and at least temporarily pave over or re-landscape the sites. Northam has tapped the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to lead a community-driven redesign for the whole avenue, a process that is expected to be drawn-out and has yet to make substantial progress.
A statue of Black tennis hero and Richmond native Arthur Ashe that was erected on the avenue in 1996 is expected to remain.