RICHMOND — The former capital of the Confederacy removed a second Confederate monument Thursday morning, taking just over an hour to dismantle and lower the statue of Navy officer and oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury.
Maury’s statue was removed the morning after Mayor Levar Stoney (D), bucking advice from the city attorney, dispatched workers to the avenue to dismantle a towering memorial to Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson.
Stoney’s spokesman said Wednesday evening that the three other city-owned Confederate memorials — honoring Maury, J.E.B. Stuart and Jefferson Davis — also would be coming down soon.
Protesters toppled the statue of Davis, president of the Confederacy, in early June, but the bulk of his enormous columned monument remains in place.
A law that took effect in Virginia on Wednesday allows cities and counties to act on their own to remove such tributes, which since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody have been the focus of nightly protests against police brutality and racial injustice.
Virginia’s new law on monuments does not allow local governments to take them down immediately. They are supposed to follow a multistep process, including a public hearing and two 30-day waiting periods.
Stoney is using emergency powers to skip those steps, saying the monuments pose a threat to public safety. The mayor expressed fear that protesters could be hurt or killed if they tried to take the statues down themselves. He also said the monuments, as a magnet for demonstrations, could contribute to the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Stoney said he had the power to act because the city is under a state of emergency, declared by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) at the mayor’s request when the demonstrations first broke out and extended earlier this week through the end of July.
The Republican Party of Virginia called Stoney’s actions illegal, but no court challenge has surfaced.
Northam has ordered the removal of a fifth, state-owned statue on the boulevard that honors Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. His order is being challenged in court.
The tribute to Maury is the most obscure of the five statues devoted to “Lost Cause” leaders in Richmond. Still, its dismantling was, to those gathered, a major milestone in the city’s long reckoning with its painful and divisive racial history.
The monument showed a metal figure of Maury seated in front of a stone base, crowned by a large globe ringed by a frenzied, storm-tossed mix of waves, people, cattle and other animals.
Maury, a Virginian, joined the Navy at age 19 and — after a stagecoach accident left him lame — devoted himself to the study of navigation, meteorology, winds and currents, according to his Navy biography.
At the outbreak of the Civil War, Maury — known as a “pathfinder of the seas” and the “father of oceanography” — resigned his commission as a Navy commander and joined the Confederacy. He spent the war in the South and in England, where he acquired ships for the Confederacy, the biography says.
After the war ended, Maury went to Mexico and attempted to set up a Confederate colony under Emperor Maximilian, but the plan fell apart, according to an Encyclopaedia Britannica article on Maury. He eventually returned to Virginia and taught meteorology at Virginia Military Institute.
His statue, erected in 1929, was created by Richmond sculptor Frederick William Sievers, who also made the Jackson monument.
On Thursday, it took workers half an hour to saw through the wrought-iron fencing surrounding the memorial. They then moved forward with crowbars to loosen the statue of Maury, whose face had been covered in recent weeks with red, yellow and green paint.
Wrapped in chains and heavy belts, some laced under Maury’s knees, the statue was raised from its stone pedestal by a forklift about 10 a.m. and set in the grassy traffic circle surrounding the monument.
A few minutes later, the statue was aloft again, as workers in hard hats guided it to a flatbed truck. It took three tries, with the forklift backing up to readjust, until the statue rested in the truck bed, where it was secured again with yellow straps and covered with a tarp.
The crowd, which had grown to about 100, cheered as the drape went overhead.
“Take it to the dump!” called out an African American man who said he was an Army combat veteran and a “native Richmond son” but declined to give his name.
“I’m 50 years old,” he said. The statue “has been up my whole life.”
The workers left the globe in place and said they were going farther west on the avenue to move a cannon, which stood alone and was not part of the bigger monuments the street is known for. The circled back east after that, picking up a second cannon from a Monument Avenue median strip, before concluding work for the day.