Stonewall Jackson statue down after Richmond mayor orders removal of Confederate monuments

"We have needed to turn this page for decades," the mayor said about the statue that will be stored as a public process plays out on its ultimate fate.

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By Phil Helsel

A statue of Stonewall Jackson on Richmond's Monument Avenue came down Wednesday after the mayor ordered the "immediate removal" of all Confederate monuments on city property.

"As the capital city of Virginia, we have needed to turn this page for decades. And today, we will," Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a video address.

Gov. Ralph Northam applauded the move. "A monumental day in Richmond that begins the important process of removing these painful symbols of our past. Thank you, next," he tweeted Wednesday.

Calls for the removal of Confederate tributes and other statues have grown louder amid widespread protests against police brutality and racial discrimination that followed the in-custody death of George Floyd May 25 in Minneapolis.

In some cases, protesters have torn down monuments themselves.

On June 10 in the Virginia city of Portsmouth, which is southeast of Richmond, a man was injured when a toppled Confederate statue struck him in the head, authorities said. In Richmond that day, protesters tore down a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Stoney said he issued the order using emergency powers Wednesday to protect public safety.

"The second reason I act today, is because it is past time," Stoney said in his video address.

The statue of the Confederate general was removed from its pedestal around 4:40 p.m., NBC affiliate WWBT of Richmond reported. It was unveiled in 1919, according to National Park Service documents.

The Stonewall Jackson statue is loaded on a truck after being removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia on July 1, 2020.Ryan M. Kelly / AFP - Getty Images

Stoney, a Democrat, was elected in 2016. He served as the first Black secretary of the Commonwealth of Virginia and is the youngest mayor in the city's history.

A law passed by the state's General Assembly in March, which took effect Wednesday, empowers localities like Richmond to remove monuments dedicated to the Confederacy, the mayor's office said.

Stoney said he will be working with the City Council in the coming weeks to outline "an inclusive public process" to determine the ultimate fate of the statues.

"Until then, they will be kept in storage," Stoney said.

Most people who watched the removal of the Jackson statue supported the move, WWBT reported. Dennis Edwards grew up in the area and said he never thought he would see the day, but called the removal "an amazing moment."

"Sea change is too much of an understatement to tell you what this means," Edwards told the station. " ... In the space of maybe what, three hours, you're looking at a situation where the entire mind-set, the entire symbolism of Richmond has totally changed."

A man who opposed the removals told the station that tourism is a big business in Richmond and that people visit for the Civil War history.

The Stonewall Jackson statue is removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia on July 1, 2020.Ryan M. Kelly / AFP - Getty Images

Earlier Wednesday, Stoney introduced a resolution to the City Council to immediately remove the statues, but because of meeting rules, officials did not vote. The resolution has support from the majority of the council, according to WWBT. A vote is scheduled for Thursday.

Cities and communities in Virginia, where the state says there are more than 200 public memorials to the Confederacy, had been barred from removing the memorials.

Virginia's Democratic-led House and Senate voted earlier this year to grant local governments the power to decide whether to remove Confederate statues from public property, and Northam signed the measure into law in April.

The law that took effect Wednesday calls for a 60-day administrative process with public input, the mayor's office said. Stoney cited emergency declarations due to recent unrest in ordering the removals.

It was not clear how many monuments will be removed under the mayor's order.

But there have been four owned by the city on Richmond's Monument Avenue, including the statue of Jackson removed Wednesday and the statue of Davis which had been toppled by protesters last month.

The statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, erected in 1890, is on state land rather than city property. Northam has said he wants that statue removed. The removal has been stalled pending the resolution of several lawsuits, The Associated Press reported.

The Associated Press contributed.