An estimated seven-figure price tag goes hand in hand with the removal of Richmond’s larger Confederate monuments. And a local nonprofit has stepped in to try to cover the costs.
The Maggie Walker Community Land Trust is acting as the transfer agent for The Fund to Move the Monuments. The newly formed initiative aims to gather enough private donations to cover the costs that will be incurred by Richmond to remove city-owned Confederate statues.
“There are a lot of people who want to see the monuments come down. So if that’s your desire, your conviction, that requires money,” said Laura Lafayette, board chairwoman of the nonprofit.
The fund launched Tuesday, the day before Mayor Levar Stoney ordered the removal of city-owned Confederate statues Wednesday. A crane soon after hoisted the statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson off its perch on Monument Avenue that afternoon. The statue had been in place since 1919.
At a city council meeting Wednesday, Stoney said it would cost the city about $1.8 million to remove the statues, and funds would come out of the Public Works budget. Stoney said Richmond would be reimbursed by “the private philanthropic effort going on to raise dollars to cover the costs to the city,” referring to the fund.
Lafayette said she had been in contact with city officials about the plan to cover monument removal costs. Generally, the plan is for the funds to be remitted to the city, though the finer details of the process, such as timelines and whether the money would be transferred in a lump sum or in increments, hasn’t been determined.
“When we have the funds in hand, we will gladly relinquish the funds,” Lafayette said. “This has come together pretty quickly. We will figure out those details.”
As of Wednesday evening, 35 donors had contributed a little more than $2,000 to the effort, Lafayette said.
The funds will be provided to the city with the “explicit stipulation they be spent only on direct expenses related to removal of the City-owned Civil War monuments with any excess reallocated to Richmond Public Schools,” according to the fund’s webpage.
Stoney said Wednesday the statues needed to be moved because they represent an “immediate and growing threat to public safety,” and to “expedite the healing process for the city,” which has seen about a month of protests against police brutality spurred by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis May 25. Confederate monuments have since become epicenters of the demonstrations in Richmond.
“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, and protestors attempt to take down Confederate statues themselves, or confront others who are doing so, the risk grows for serious illness, injury, or death,” Stoney said in a statement. “We have an urgent need to protect the public.”
Several statues tied to the Confederacy have been felled by protesters in Richmond in recent weeks. In Portsmouth, a man was injured when people damaged a Confederate monument last month.
Stoney cited emergency powers as well as a new state law that allows localities to remove Confederate monuments within their jurisdictions. Localities are allowed to enter a 60-day period to collect public input and figure out statues’ fate. The law went into effect July 1. In a recorded message Wednesday, the mayor said removals would occur “over the next several days.”
“The statues will be moved to an undisclosed and secure location,” city spokesman Jim Nolan said in an email, adding that Stoney plans “to remove all confederate monuments in the city as soon as we can do so safely.”
The fund initiative is the brainchild of Shannon Harton, a local real estate agent, who hit on the idea in 2017 after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. Lafayette said the effort is a good fit for the Maggie Walker Community Land Trust, which works to help low- and moderate-income households achieve and maintain affordable homeownership.
“The removal of the statues aligns with our mission statement, which is to create a more equitable and just community,” she said.
The nonprofit’s initiative comes amid a legal battle over removal of the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, which is the only statue along Monument Avenue that’s owned by the state.
Richmond BizSense reporter Jonathan Spiers contributed to this report.