Two busloads of activists from Charlottesville, plus several dozen from Richmond and Norfolk, brought their campaign for local control over Confederate monuments to Richmond this week, rallying in front of the state Capitol Wednesday.
Six legislators were scheduled to speak, but the first day of the session interfered, and only Delegate Sally Hudson managed to dash out of the House to talk to members of the statewide Monumental Justice coalition.
The issue of Confederate monuments has roiled Charlottesville for years, culminating in 2017’s deadly Unite the Right rally, ostensibly to protest City Council’s vote to remove generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from downtown parks. In 2012, then councilor Kristin Szakos, who helped organize Wednesday’s rally, was widely castigated for daring to suggest the monuments should go.
Last year, around a dozen Charlottesvillians showed up for a 7:30am subcommittee meeting, where then-delegate David Toscano’s bill for local control was killed in a 6-2 vote, with one Democrat joining the Republican majority.
This year, organizers see a change in the wind, with a Democratic majority in both houses of the General Assembly, and Governor Ralph Northam saying he’d sign a bill into law.
The city of Norfolk filed a federal lawsuit against the state in August, alleging the law that prohibits removal of war memorials throttles the city’s free expression. And two days before the rally, Richmond’s City Council passed a resolution asking legislators to let the city determine the destiny of its Confederate statues.
Rally organizer Lisa Draine, whose daughter was injured August 12, 2017, when a neo-Nazi ploughed into a crowd of counterprotesters on Fourth Street, is with the local affiliate, Take ‘Em Down Cville. “We’re mobilizing earlier with more force,” she says, and with more legislators committed. She cautions, “it’s not a slam dunk,” and Draine plans to return to Richmond to lobby legislators.
That was Hudson’s advice to the ralliers—to tell their stories to the 140 legislators in the General Assembly. “You have to be here again and tell my colleagues why you need monumental justice now.”
She’s carrying a bill co-sponsored by Norfolk Delegate Jay Jones, who received a standing ovation in February when he described the effects of racism in the wake of Virginia’s blackface scandals. In the Senate, Senator Creigh Deeds is co-sponsoring a bill with Senator Mamie Locke, chair of the Democratic caucus.
UVA professor Jalane Schmidt acknowledges learning from showing up last year on the day of the subcommittee vote, when she believes the decision had already been made. “The energy feels different,” she says. “It’s more organized this year statewide.” That broader response, she says, shows local control of statues “is not just a boutique issue of the city of Charlottesville.”
Said Schmidt, “Today we’re here to call for a new dominion.”
In keeping with that theme, the two buses from Charlottesville swung by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to see artist Kehinde Wiley’s recently installed statue. “Rumors of War” repositions a contemporary African American in classic equestrian statuary, and it sits facing a facility of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the organization responsible for many of the Confederate monuments that dot the Southern landscape. With paper cups of bubby beverages, the activists toasted the new monument.