RICHMOND, Va. — Protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the former capital of the Confederacy, adding it to the list of Old South monuments removed or damaged in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
The bronze statue on Richmond’s Monument Avenue had been all but marked for removal by city leaders in a matter of weeks, but demonstrators took matters into their own hands Wednesday night, tying ropes around its legs and toppling it onto the pavement.
A crowd cheered and police looked on as the monument — installed by a Confederate heritage group in 1907 during the Jim Crow era — was towed away
There were no immediate reports of any arrests.
The toppling came on the same day NASCAR banned Confederate flags — a common site for decades in a sport steeped in Southern tradition — at its stock car races.
In the weeks since Floyd’s death under a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee set off protests and sporadic violence across the U.S., many Confederate symbols and monuments have been damaged or brought down, some toppled by demonstrators and others removed by local authorities.
The movement has extended around the world, with protesters decrying monuments to slave traders, imperialists and explorers, including Christopher Columbus, Cecil Rhodes and Belgium’s King Leopold II.
- The statues on the Confederate monument are covered in graffiti and beheaded after a protest in Portsmouth, Va., Wednesday, June 10, 2020. Protesters beheaded and then pulled down four statues that were part of a Confederate monument. The crowd was frustrated by the Portsmouth City Council’s decision to put off moving the monument. Kristen Zeis/The Virginian-Pilot via Associated Press
- A statue of Christopher Columbus is shown vandalized at Bayfront Park in Miami, Thursday, June 11, 2020. Miami police say that several people were arrested for vandalizing the statue of Columbus and Juan Ponce de León during a protest Wednesday. Protests continue over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died last month while in police custody in Minneapolis. Lynne Sladky, Associated Press
- In this photograph made available by Bristol City Council, the statue of Edward Colston is recovered from the harbour in Bristol, Thursday June 11, 2020, after it was toppled by anti-racism protesters on Sunday. The council says it has been taken to a “secure location” and will end up in a museum. Colston built a fortune transporting enslaved Africans across the Atlantic, and left most of his money to charity. Bristol City Council via Associated Press
- Workers clean graffiti from a statue of Belgium’s King Leopold II in Brussels on Thursday, June 11, 2020, that was targeted by protesters during a Black Lives Matter demonstration. The protests sweeping the world after George Floyd’s death in the U.S. have added fuel to a movement to confront Europe’s role in the slave trade and its colonial past. Leopold is increasingly seen as a stain on the nation where he reigned from 1865 to 1909. Demonstrators want him removed from public view. Francisco Seco, Associated Press
- A police tape marks off a fallen statue from the Confederate monument in Portsmouth, Va., on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. The statue was pulled down by protesters. Kristen Zeis/The Virginian-Pilot via Associated Press
- In this photograph made available by Bristol City Council, the statue of Edward Colston is placed in the back of a truck after being recovered from the harbor in Bristol, Thursday June 11, 2020, after it was toppled by anti-racism protesters on Sunday. The council says it has been taken to a “secure location” and will end up in a museum. Colston built a fortune transporting enslaved Africans across the Atlantic, and left most of his money to charity. Bristol City Council via Associated Press
- Passers-by walk near a damaged Christopher Columbus statue, Wednesday, June 10, 2020, in a waterfront park near the city’s traditionally Italian North End neighborhood, in Boston. The statue was found beheaded Wednesday morning, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said. Steven Senne, Associated Press
- In this photo taken on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, a bust of Belgium’s King Leopold II is smeared with red paint and graffiti in Tervuren, Belgium. With the protests sweeping the world in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, King Leopold II is now increasingly seen as a stain on the nation as demonstrators demand he disappear from public view and authorities take heed. Statues of the late king have defaced in at least a half dozen cities across Belgium. Virginia Mayo, Associated Press
- The statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis is splattered with paint after it was toppled Wednesday night, June 10, 2020, along Monument Drive in Richmond, Va. Dylan Garner/Richmond Times-Dispatch via Associated Press
- A worker cleans graffiti from the plinth of the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Parliament Square in London, following a Black Lives Matter protest at the weekend, Monday June 8, 2020. Aaron Chown/PA via Associated Press
The Davis monument was a few blocks away from a massive equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that the state of Virginia is trying to take down. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam last week ordered its removal, but a judge on Monday blocked such action for at least 10 days.
The spokesman for the Virginia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, B. Frank Earnest, condemned the toppling of “public works of art” and likened losing the Confederate statues to losing a family member.
“The men who served under Robert E. Lee were my great-grandfathers or their brothers and their cousins. So it is my family,” he said. “What if a crowd of any other group went and found the symbols of someone they didn’t like and decided to tear them down? Everybody would be appalled. But I don’t know why it’s acceptable, why people who are descended from the Confederate Army and the Confederate soldiers, it’s accepted in this country that you can do anything to us you want.”
The toppling of the Davis statue reflected protesters’ impatience with political leaders. A commission of historians and government leaders had recommended in 2018 taking down the monument, and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney recently announced that he would introduce an ordinance to remove it and statues of several other Confederates.
Also Wednesday night, protesters in Portsmouth, Virginia, about 80 miles away, beheaded and then pulled down four statues that were part of a Confederate monument as a brass band played in the streets and demonstrators danced. The crowd was frustrated by the Portsmouth City Council’s decision to put off moving the monument.
A protester in his 30s was hit in the head and knocked unconscious as the monument fell, Portsmouth NAACP Vice President Louie Gibbs said. The man was taken to a hospital. His condition was not immediately disclosed.
On Tuesday, protesters in Richmond tore down a statue of Columbus, set it on fire and pitched it into a lake.
Supporters of Confederate monuments have argued that they are important reminders of history, while opponents contend they glorify those who led a rebellion to preserve slavery.
The Davis monument and many others across the South were erected decades after the Civil War, during the Jim Crow era, in which states clamped down on black people, and during the Lost Cause movement, in which historians and others sought to recast the South’s rebellion as a noble undertaking, fought to defend not slavery but states’ rights.