Updated at 3:55 p.m. ET
Just weeks before last year’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced a new commission to recommend “how to best tell the real story” of the Confederate-era and other statues on Monument Avenue, a tree-lined street known as one of the city’s tourist destinations.
Then the white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, some 70 miles away. They rallied around a statue of Robert E. Lee that had been slated for removal during an August weekend that turned violent.
The next week, Stoney added to the Richmond group’s charge: The commission would examine the possible removal or relocation of monuments.
“I live in a city where 25 percent of the residents live under the poverty line,” Stoney told NPR’s Weekend Edition at the time. “The vestiges of Jim Crow live with us every single day.”
On Monday, the commission released a 117-page report outlining their recommendations — including one to remove a statue of the Confederacy’s president, Jefferson Davis, in the city that was its capital. The monument stands out on a street lined with them: the bronze statue by Edward Valentine depicts Davis, arm outstretched, standing in the center of a semi-circle of columns. It was unveiled in 1907 at a reunion of thousands of Confederate veterans, according to newspaper archives.
Christy Coleman, CEO of the American Civil War Museum and co-chair of the commission, says that Davis’ statue “had a particular significance for the Richmond community that participated in the process.” Thousands of community members came to the panel’s various public sessions and wrote to them to provide input.
The group outlined a plan to add context to other Confederate-era statues, including those of Gens. Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, and suggested creating a more elaborate exhibit providing context for those monuments.
It also recommended creating a memorial to those who had been enslaved and to soldiers of the United States Colored Troops who served in the Civil War.
The goal, the group wrote in the report, is to create an environment that “celebrates the contributions of many diverse groups and acknowledges the darker chapters of the City’s past.”
Various cities across the U.S. have removed statues and renamed streets and buildings named for Confederate-era leaders in the past year. But Virginia has a long-standing law against removing certain war monuments and memorials, even those under a city’s purview.
That means actually removing Davis’ statue will require legislation or legal action. (There is ongoing litigation about what types of statues can be removed by cities in Virginia, and Richmond’s city attorney provided the commission with an outline of the current rules as they worked on their recommendations.)
Next, the commission will present their report to the Richmond City Council, which will review the recommendations and decide whether to act on them.
“What happens after this point,” Coleman says, “is really up to city officials and political leadership.”