Richmond removes statue of Confederate officer Maury

Richmond’s stately Monument Avenue looks slightly different Thursday than it did Wednesday, and will look different again in the near future.

By 10 a.m. Thursday, the statue of astronomer and Confederate naval officer Matthew Fontaine Maury had been removed by city work crews to cheers from 200 bystanders.

“It’s about time we removed those monuments. They were statues to bigotry, division, hate, oppression — you name it — and that’s not who we are as a city,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said at a Thursday press conference.

“Once we remove the remaining monuments, we can officially say that we were the former capital of the Confederacy. Now we can be the capital for compassion, the capital for equity, and the capital for atonement and reconciliation.”

Stoney also cited public safety concerns for removing the statue. He said his primary responsibility is to protect life and property, and over the past 34 days, Monument Avenue had received 139 calls for service as a number of people had gathered in Richmond.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s state of emergency declaration at the end of May, and the emergency powers granted to Stoney by the Richmond City Council on June 8, is what Stoney said enabled him to take swift action on the statue’s removal.

It took less than an hour to remove the statue that had been sitting along Monument Avenue since 1929 — the last of five Confederate monuments to be erected. Maury was depicted sitting in a chair with a large globe behind him.

Stoney said that the Maury statue, along with other Confederate statues, will be put into storage.

A cherry picker arrived shortly after 9 a.m. to prepare to remove the Maury statue. First, work crews cut the metal fencing around it.

Before 10 a.m., the crew secured a strap to the statue so it could be lifted off its position by the cherry picker.

Stoney had promised Wednesday that all Confederate statues on city-owned property — including the Maury statue — would be removed, as soon as possible. He mentioned that there are 11 in total he has been looking to take down in the city of Richmond.

On the tree-lined street flanked by mansions, statues memorializing Virginian Confederate generals are in the process of being removed.

On Thursday morning, a graffiti-filled base was all that was left at Monument Avenue and N. Arthur Ashe Boulevard after Wednesday’s removal of the equestrian statue of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, during an afternoon thunderstorm, as hundreds watched and cheered.

Earlier Wednesday — on the day a new Virginia state law took effect, allowing localities to remove Confederate war monuments in their jurisdictions — Stoney, a Democrat, declared an emergency order to remove them, as a matter of public safety.

On June 10, the statue of Jefferson Davis, which was unveiled in 1907, was toppled by protesters.

The statue removals come at a time of widespread introspection of the country’s racial legacy.

The Black Lives Matter movement, revitalized by the death of George Floyd and other Black Americans by police, especially people in custody, has resulted in the removal of Confederate monuments and other symbols of systemic racism across the country.

City officials had not specified which of the two remaining Confederate statues on Richmond property — those of Maury and of J.E.B. Stuart — would be removed next.

The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee stands on state-owned property. Northam, a Democrat, ordered it removed. However, a lawsuit filed by a descendant of the couple who owned the property before it was turned over to the state argues the deed ensured the land and monument would stand and be cared for forever.

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has said Northam is well within his rights as governor to order the divisive statue removed.

On Thursday morning, protesters calling for the removal of the Lee statue maintained a vigil on the grassy circle surrounding the now-defaced monument, as sightseers snapped photos of the denuded base of the Jackson statue.

Neighbors walked their dogs along the avenue, and joggers maintained a sense of normalcy as city and state leaders contemplated next steps in removing the Confederate symbols that began lining Monument Avenue in 1890.

The Monument Avenue statue of tennis star Arthur Ashe — an African-American Richmond native — was unveiled in 1996.

WTOP’s Matthew Delaney and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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