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New plan would transfer Confederate monuments to Black History Museum

People stand on top of monument
The Confederate monuments that formerly lined Richmond's Monument Avenue became a rallying point during protest against police brutality last summer. Some advocates say that since those protests, too much focus has been placed on the monuments at the expense of calls for policing reforms. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Nine Confederate statues in Richmond could find a new home in the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia under a plan announced Thursday.

Gov. Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney – both Democrats – say their plan would help depoliticize the debate over what to do with the statues.

Under their proposal, the statues and their pedestals would go to the Black History Museum in Richmond’s Jackson Ward. That includes an iconic statue of Robert E. Lee that became a rallying point for activists and artists last year and was removed in September after a prolonged legal battle. The statue’s graffitied pedestal and artifacts in two time capsules – all removed in the last month – would also be transferred.

The Black History Museum would work with The Valentine, Richmond’s oldest museum, to spend at least two years getting public input on how to display the items.

The two institutions “will take the time that is necessary to properly engage the public and ensure the thoughtful future uses of these artifacts, while we reimagine Monument Avenue, focus on telling our history fully and accurately in places like Shockoe Bottom and lift up residents throughout the city,” Stoney said in a statement.

The plan requires sign-off from Richmond City Council.

The statues were removed by protesters – and by workers hired by the city and state – during demonstrations against police brutality last year. Some activists say there’s been too much focus on the statues and not enough on efforts to reform policing.

In a statement, Marland Buckner, the interim director of the BMHVA, said the museum would manage these objects to ensure their purpose was not forgotten: “The glorification of those who led the fight to enslave African Americans and destroy the Union.”

“But we believe with this responsibility also comes opportunity – opportunities to deepen our understanding of an essential element of the American story: the expansion of freedom,” Buckner said.