Discussions on what to do with Confederate monuments and their message to residents continued Tuesday in Richmond, with a visit from the former mayor of New Orleans.
As part of an on-going tour of the south, Mitch Landrieu took part in a community conversation with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney about race issues and these statues at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture.
It’s a hotly debated issue, embedded in Virginia streets.
“In thinking about how people of color experience the city of Richmond, the monuments place a huge role in that experience,” Mariah Williams, of Richmond, said.
Williams knows a thing or two about urban planning, after studying it for years. What she sees everyday impacts her and other members of the black community.
“For people like myself to have to walk through and an environment and experience a space like Monument Avenue, that is literally a reflection of a time that caused so much trauma to our community, it’s not okay,” Williams explained. “I think [the monuments] should be taken down.”
Monument Avenue is home to the Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis monuments, but conversations about war statues have been going on for years throughout the Commonwealth.
Mayor Stoney says he would remove the statues, but he can’t under the current state law. Cities and towns can’t move war monuments, including Confederate statues, even though they may be on the localities’ property.
Del. David Toscano (D-Charlottesville) proposed changing the law this year to give localities the power to decide what to do with these statues, but it didn’t get enough support from other lawmakers.
“Although we’ve come a long way, we still have a ways to go,” Mayor Stoney said. “Also, that means tackling some of the symbolism that may stand in some of our localities as well.”
Violence broke out at rallies in Charlottesville in 2017, following calls to take down the Confederate monuments there. One counter-protester died, as well as two Virginia State Troopers.
Former New Orleans Mayor Landrieu says a friend of his asked him when he was elected what he was going to do about the Confederate monuments in his city. After learning about the pain they caused members of the black community, he decided to do something about it.
“I asked myself, does that man standing on top of that thing, send a message to people that you are welcome and we want you all here or no you don’t belong here,” he explained. “We owned a piece of property, and that monument does not reflect the soul of the city of New Orleans.”
New Orleans’ Confederate monuments were removed in 2017, after two years of community conversations around the issue. Landrieu says it wasn’t easy, and at times “was ugly,” but emphasized it was important for the city to do together.
“In my opinion, what you cannot do is deny who put them up, why they put them up,” he explained. “There is a difference between remembrance – which we should always do because we never want to repeat it – and reverence, which is to say we put you up because we honor what you did so that maybe we can do it again.”
The statues are storage, Landrieu says, as the current mayor and city council of New Orleans decides what to do with them.
Moving forward, the mayors emphasized a need to continue these conversations to learn from each other and what meanings these statues hold.