31 Dec 2021

Virginia Confederate monuments likely headed to Black history museum

5:42 pm on 31 December 2021

Confederate monuments taken down in Richmond, Virginia, will likely be moved to a Black history museum and cultural centre, officials have said.

RICHMOND, VIRGINIA - SEPTEMBER 08: Crews prepare to remove one of the country's largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, September 8, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia.

A statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee is taken down from its site in Richmond, Virginia, in September 2021. Photo: 2021 Getty Images

An imposing statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee that was removed in September is expected to be among the monuments being transferred.

Memorials to leaders of the pro-slavery, Confederate states in the southern US have been controversial.

A community-led process will decide the fate of the memorials, officials say.

As part of the plan announced on Thursday by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, the monuments will be handed over to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia (BHMVA).

The museum will also coordinate with the city's Valentine museum - which focuses on Richmond's history - and the local community to determine how the monuments are used in the future.

The plan, however, still requires the approval of the local city council which Stoney will seek in January.

"Entrusting the future of these monuments and pedestals to two of our most respected institutions is the right thing to do," Stoney said in a statement.

"They will take the time that is necessary to properly engage the public and ensure the thoughtful future uses of these artefacts."

The collection includes monuments to a number of other prominent Confederate figures - including former Confederate president Jefferson Davis - as well as a ceremonial cannon and a monument to Confederate soldiers and sailors.

RICHMOND, VA - JULY 02: Crew prepare to remove a confederate cannon monument that marks the location of the second line of the confederate defenses of Richmond city on July 2, 2020 in Richmond, Virginia.

The cannon is removed from its site in Richmond, Virginia, in July 2020. Photo: 2020 Getty Images

Richmond was the capital of the Confederate states during the US Civil War.

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

The BHMVA's interim executive director, Marland Buckner, said in a statement to local media that a handover of the monuments will present "opportunities to deepen our understanding of an essential element of the American story: the expansion of freedom".

Greg Werkheiser of Cultural Heritage Partners - a law firm representing both museums involved in the transfer - told the BBC that while the monuments are "inappropriate" and tell a "false historical narrative", they remain important as an "educational tool".

"There are countless social and justice challenges that face people of colour in this country, and nobody believes that by removing these symbols you're really addressing the fundamentals of those," he said, adding: "We don't want to say that these monuments are worthless and without value in contributing to a better understanding of those challenges."

Stoney ordered that the city's remaining Confederate monuments, including a 6.4m statue of Robert E Lee erected in 1890, be removed amid national protests over the murder of George Floyd.

"There's no other country in the world that erects monuments to those who took up arms against their country," Stoney told the BBC in September.

Plans to remove the Lee statue were initially delayed by two separate lawsuits by Richmond residents opposed to its removal.

Hundreds of statues of Lee and other Confederate figures still exist throughout the southern US.

The top half of the statue of former Confederate General Robert E. Lee is lifted away after being cut off and removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia on September 8, 2021.

The top half of the 6.4m Robert Lee statue which was erected more than 130 years ago. Photo: AFP


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