As the debate rages nationwide over what to do over a plethora of Confederate monuments, new concern is mounting over a Confederate rally planned for Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday.
At the center of the debate is Richmond’s “Monument Avenue,” a collection of statues of Confederate leaders in the former Confederate capital. Back in May, the city’s mayor Levar Stoney said that while he personally believes the monuments are an “endorsement of a shameful past,” he didn’t believe there should be a rush to remove them. He had hoped for a dialogue to take place, and even floated the idea of adding plaques to the statues for more accurate historical context.
"I think we have an opportunity here in the city to actually be a hub for reconciliation."
He created the “Monument Avenue Commission” and even solicited public input in the form of open public meetings. Richmond residents were not shy voicing their opinions.
Rita Willis, a former teacher, attended the Aug. 9 public forum to say they are a part of Virginia’s history, whether some like it or not. However she emphasized that if they stay, other statues should be erected that highlight people of other races and ethnicities.
George Knight, on the other hand, stood in the auditorium and gave city officials a tongue lashing.
“Now is the time to finally get rid of the monuments and replace them with people who actually fought for freedom who actually stood for justice,” Knight said, his voice raising as officials urged him to keep calm. “You lost! Get over it already! Get rid of your participation trophies on monument avenue, get rid of it.”
He was met with a spattering of boos as well as cheers.
But some attitudes regarding the statues changed following the white nationalist rally last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, which culminated in counter-protestor Heather Heyer losing her life. Stoney is one who’s taken a slightly different position since Charlottesville and believes that perhaps they should now consider taking them down. He wrote in a statement that it had become clear that the statues were being used as a “rallying point for division and intolerance and violence.”
The group rallying support around the Robert E. Lee statue on Saturday is a relatively small group out of Tennessee known as “CSA II: The New Confederate States of America.” The group’s president said they were “standing up for their proud heritage” in a nonviolent manner and that any white nationalists or racists who show up to rally with them will not be accepted.
He said his message to Richmonders on edge regarding the weekend’s rally is simple: “We are here for peaceful purposes only.”
“We will not stand for any violence in Richmond, Virginia.”
But the city says they are taking protective measures to be safe. The mayor and police chief announced this week that any objects that can be used as weapons will be prohibited. One type of weapon that won’t be prohibited, however, are guns, as Virginia is an open-carry state.
“If you do not respect our city,” Stoney warned, “law enforcement will lock you up."