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Plan for Richmond’s Confederate monuments is 'right thing to do,' mayor says

Black History Museum will partner with The Valentine to manage the public process for reinterpretation
Confederate Monument Richmond
Posted at 9:59 AM, Dec 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-30 19:46:55-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Richmond’s Confederate monuments, including the Robert E. Lee statue and its 40-foot protest-art-covered granite pedestal, will be given to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia (BHMVA), Mayor Levar Stoney announced Thursday.

The BHMVA will partner with The Valentine to "manage the public process for long-term reinterpretation," leaders with both institutions said.

The collection includes monuments to, J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, Matthew Fontaine Maury, Joseph Bryan, Fitzhugh Lee, Confederate Soldier and Sailors and a ceremonial cannon.

However, officials said the transfer does not include the monument to A.P. Hill, who is buried under his statue, since talks with his descendants continue about relocation of his remains.

The state will transfer ownership of the entire Lee Monument, including the protest-art-covered pedestal and other artifacts, to Richmond, officials said.

Accordingly, Stoney will ask Richmond City Council in January to accept the property from the state and transfer ownership of the monument to the BHMVA, which will also receive titles to all city-owned Confederate statues removed so far as well as their pedestals, which officials said are in the process of being removed.

RELATED: Confederate veterans group miffed Black History Museum will get statues

Gov. Ralph Northam, Stoney and museum leaders identified three factors in the transfer and agreement:

  • Placing community-based museums in the driver’s seat to determine appropriate interpretation and curation of the monuments that can facilitate a fulsome and respectful dialogue on the issue
  • Ensuring decision-making and community input processes are not bogged down by government bureaucracy or politics
  • Providing a framework for catalyzing philanthropic support for both community engagement and future use of the monuments

“Entrusting the future of these monuments and pedestals to two of our most respected institutions is the right thing to do,” Stoney said. “They will take the time that is necessary to properly engage the public and ensure the thoughtful future uses of these artifacts, while we reimagine Monument Avenue, focus on telling our history fully and accurately in places like Shockoe Bottom and lift up residents throughout the city.”

Northam said the monuments "celebrated our country’s tragic division and the side that fought to keep alive the institution of slavery by any means possible."

“Now it will be up to our thoughtful museums, informed by the people of Virginia, to determine the future of these artifacts, including the base of the Lee Monument which has taken on special significance as protest art," Northam said.

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Officials said the BHMVA will partner with The Valentine and other Richmond museums to "manage a multi-year, community-driven process to determine the proper future use of each piece of the collection."

“Our institution takes very seriously the responsibility to manage these objects in ways that ensure their origins and purpose are never forgotten: that is the glorification of those who led the fight to enslave African Americans and destroy the Union. But we believe with this responsibility also comes opportunity – opportunities to deepen our understanding of an essential element of the American story: the expansion of freedom," BHMVA Interim Executive Director Marland Buckner said.

A "broad-based community engagement process," which is expected to take at least two years, will impact choices made about the future of the collection, according Buckner.

Valentine Director Bill Martin said Richmond's oldest museum was honored to partner on the "important undertaking."

“We have a tradition of encouraging new perspectives and research on our city’s history and of using the historic resources of our collections as a foundation," Martin said. "The monument question is a very complicated one that requires us to pause and understand more fully the political and social environment within which the statues were created and removed. We should listen to each other with a clear understanding of the legacy of injustice that continues in our community, and only then consider what the possibilities are for the future of the monuments. This partnership should serve as a model for community engagement and affirm the essential role that museums must play in helping to inform community decisions.”