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UPDATED: 'This is the beginning, y'all': Marchers converge at Robert E. Lee statue as talks of monument removal escalate

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Protesters supporting Black Lives Matter march down West Main Street and through Carytown in Richmond, Va., Wednesday night, June 3, 2020. Video by Alexa Welch Edlund/Times-Dispatch

Update: 12:50 a.m.

Protesters reunited at the 7-11 on Main Street after departing the monument around 8 p.m., with a congregation smaller than Wednesday afternoon that still numbered in the hundreds. Cars tagged along, sending waves of pulsing rap music to amp up the crowd as they marched through a boarded up Carytown, where multiple businesses displayed “Black Lives Matter” along the wooden panels.

The march ended at Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War statue, which displays a black man in a top knot, sweatshirt and jeans on a horse facing the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

“There he is!” said one person marching.

“I love you,” said another.

Cyclists lined the grass surrounding the building that burned late Saturday night into early Sunday morning to help limit interactions with the four security guards with guns that were circling the Daughters of the Confederacy - its walls still covered with spray painted quotes including “built on our backs” and “abolition.”

Speakers focused on needing unity among all races and fighting for all social justice causes.

Richmond Police Department headquarters continued to be lined with humvees and guarded by soldiers as night turned to morning.


Nearly a thousand people converged at the Robert E. Lee monument Wednesday evening to celebrate after the city’s mayor agreed with protesters that the monuments to Confederate leaders should come down.

History is being made, but the work is not yet done, said Ashley Roye.

“The removal of the statue doesn’t mean anything until we see change,” she said. “A change in behavior, in what’s put back into our communities. This country was built on our backs. We are disparaged.”

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Other demonstrators said the city can’t ignore how many black people continue to be imprisoned, and how police brutality predominantly impacts black communities; a statistic Dwight Gaines has become too familiar with. He lost his cousin to police violence in Washington, D.C., a few years ago.

“This is a revolution,” Gaines said. “We need every person in this fight, and whether I know them or not, we’re all affected.”

Even as they celebrated, event organizers and participants reminded the group to expand their activism and continue advocating for social justice causes, citing the importance of protecting black transgender lives and black women. They spoke of Breonna Taylor, who was killed by police officers in Louisville, Ky., and Tony McDade, a black trans man who was killed in Tallahassee. No police officers have been charged in either case.

Carlton Webb, an organizer with the Richmond Transparency Accountability Project, said removing the monuments is a step forward but not sufficient.

“This was embedded in this society for one reason: to continue the narrative and to show their control over us. It should have been done 50 years ago,” he said. “A lot of people have given lip service and a lot of politicians do. The only way they do what they say is if we make them. Nothing happens without us at the table.”

As protesters celebrated Wednesday, state Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield and a candidate for governor, started a petition to save the Lee statue. “They must be stopped,” the petition says.

“Northam is giving into looters and domestic terrorists instead of defending the historical monuments owned by all Virginians,” the petition continues.

Two protest onlookers who live on Monument Avenue, Don and Nancy Baker, disagreed. The two have lived in the same house on the street for 35 years, and were shocked to learn of Northam’s plans.

A sign in their yard reads: “Take them down.”

“We’ve been wanting that to happen for years,” said Don Baker, the former Richmond bureau chief for the Washington Post. “It’s not a tribute to these guys. It’s a tribute to slavery and to Jim Crow. They say it’s history, but it’s bad history. It’s nothing to be proud of and it’s not going to hurt the neighborhood once they’re down. They’ll figure out something else to put up.”

Richmond leaders until Wednesday had not committed to a course of action involving the four Confederate monuments that the city soon will have the local authority to control; a power bestowed on localities by a new Democratic majority in the state legislature. The City Council still must approve the measure for action to occur.

The administration of Mayor Levar Stoney introduced an ordinance, in tandem with City Councilman Michael Jones, to remove city-controlled monuments come July 1.

Wednesday night’s protests were organized by members of the 381 Movement. Those in charge declined to identify themselves, but said they want to see change in Richmond. They plan to march and protest for 381 days; the same amount of time as the Montgomery Bus Boycotts organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“This is the beginning, y’all,” an organizer said.


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