Richmond City Councilman Michael Jones may seem an unlikely ally for the great-great-grandson of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart, but they share a common goal of finding a new home outside of the city for a Confederate monument that no longer stands over Stuart Circle on Monument Avenue.
Jones is an African American minister from South Richmond who has led the council effort to remove Confederate statues in the city. But now he’s throwing his support behind James E.B. Stuart V, a Richmond orthopedic surgeon who has asked the city to allow a nonprofit trust to take the statue of his namesake to the general’s birthplace in Patrick County.
“I know I’m going to work like the dickens to make sure things work out for the Stuart family,” Jones said in an interview about the unfolding process for the City Council to decide what to do with the vanquished Confederate statuary taken down last month from their pedestals on Monument Avenue.
“I have a lot of respect for his position on this and how he’s handled it,” he said of Stuart.
After Labor Day, the City Council will decide what to do with the Confederate statues that Mayor Levar Stoney ordered removed early last month because of escalating street protests that already had toppled the monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis and demands for the removal of other monuments to a Lost Cause steeped in white supremacy.
The mayor made the move after protesters attempted to pull down the Stuart statue, which they splashed with red paint and draped with a noose. Stoney acted before the City Council could act under the timeline in a new state law that freed local governments to make decisions about war memorials on city property. Two Monument Avenue residents have sued the city for removing the statues without following the law and want them restored.
However, the council voted on Monday to make the removal of the monuments permanent and open a 30-day window to consider offers to move the statues to museums, historical sites, localities or military battlefields that want them.
Only one of the 10 Confederate monuments named in the ordinance remains standing, a statue of Gen. A.P. Hill at the intersection of Hermitage Road and West Laburnum Avenue, where the general’s remains also are buried. The ordinance does not include a statue of Genoese explorer Christopher Columbus that protesters pulled down at the entrance to Byrd Park and which Italian American groups asked the council on Monday to give to them for preservation on private property.
The council’s staff is working on guidelines for disposing of the statues under the state law, which took effect on July 1. The staff has begun meeting with council members about their goals and guidelines for disposing of the statues and plans to advertise the process publicly.
“We are taking the time to solicit feedback from members so their ideas and concerns are incorporated into our path forward,” council chief of staff Lawrence Anderson said Thursday.
The state law gives the City Council, as the local governing body, “sole authority to determine the final disposition of the monument or memorial,” although Anderson said the council would work with the city administration on the operational requirements to transfer the statues and their empty pedestals, which are considered part of the monuments.
During a public hearing on Monday, one opponent of removing the monuments cautioned against “hasty decisions” to dispose of the statues, but Jones, who sponsored the ordinance to take down monuments, thinks the council needs to be ready to act when the window for offers closes.
“I’m of the belief we’ve had enough public hearing on this,” he said. “It’s time for council to properly dispose of them.”
Thomas Jamerson, a Midlothian lawyer for the Stuart family, said Monument no longer is the proper place for the statue of the Confederate general.
“We do not operate under the belief that the statue will be returned to Monument Avenue,” Jamerson told the council on Monday.
The Stuart statue was erected in 1907 during a resurgence of the “Lost Cause” history of the former Confederacy and the enactment of Jim Crow laws that enforced racial segregation throughout public life in Virginia.
Allowing its removal to Patrick County, about 200 miles from Richmond along the North Carolina line, would “easily rid the city of one point of contention,” Jamerson said.
Jones spoke in favor of granting the request by the Stuart family.
“For them, it’s more than just a general, it’s more than just a statue,” he told the council. “It’s part of their family history.”
Jones contacted Stuart after reading a story in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about proposals by the Confederate general’s ancestor and the J.E.B. Stuart Birthplace Preservation Trust Inc. to move the statue to a 75-acre historical and archeological site the nonprofit trust operates at Laurel Hill, the cavalryman’s original home near Ararat in Patrick County.
The trust wrote to Stoney and Council President Cynthia Newbille on July 7 “to express our fervent desire” to acquire the statue and move it to Laurel Hill.
“Our organization is prepared to pay the costs of loading and moving his statue to our site,” trust President Ronnie Haynes told city officials.
Stuart said in an interview Thursday that he and his family are “extremely appreciative” of the council’s consideration of the request, and especially Jones’ effort “to reach out to us to hear the concerns and feelings of my family for a potential outcome.”
Council members are awaiting their staff recommendations for guidelines on what to do with the monuments — both the statues and their pedestals.
Jones wants top consideration for descendants of the men depicted in the statues, but only if the monuments are placed at sites of historical significance.
He said museums should receive second consideration for the nine removed Confederate monuments, which also include statues of Davis, Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Confederate naval officer and oceanographer Matthew Fontaine Maury.
“They are part of history,” he said. “A very, very evil part, a very controversial part of history, but history nonetheless. If someone wants to put them in a museum, more power to them.”
One of the questions that the council must decide is whether to sell the statues to the highest bidder or include the costs of taking them down. Richmond paid $1.8 million to remove all Confederate monuments from city property under an emergency contract that the council did not review or approve.
Councilman Chris Hilbert said Monday that the monuments should be “sold at auction and placed on private property,” but Jones said he doesn’t want the city to try to profit from the monuments, other than possibly recovering some of its costs.
“If we’re just trying to make a buck, I’m not for that,” he said. “Making money off these Confederate statues? I’m just not.”
Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale, whom the city hired to supervise the safe removal of the statues, called them “original and singular works of art, and historic works of art as well” that are worth far more than the value of the bronze itself.
Whatever process the city uses, DiPasquale told the council that it should require assurance that the statues “would not be destroyed.”
Jones does not favor a formal request for proposals to determine what to do with the monuments.
“That’s just another whole can of worms,” he said.