The Democratic mayor of Richmond, Virginia, invoked his emergency powers on Wednesday to remove multiple Confederate monuments in the city, including a statue honoring Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, from the city’s historic Monument Avenue.
Crews spent part of Wednesday afternoon removing the Jackson statue as scores of onlookers watched the monument honoring the late slave owner who fought to preserve slavery begin to come down after standing in the city for more than 100 years. The bronze statue finally came down just before 5 p.m. ET as a thunderstorm drenched the crowd, which had erupted into cheers.
The move by Mayor Levar Stoney, who did not identify the other statues he plans to remove from Richmond – the former capital of the Confederacy – comes as a number of cities and states have in recent weeks been removing statues and other symbols that honor Confederate leaders amid a national reckoning with America’s racist past.
“It is past time,” Levar said in an address. “As the capital city of Virginia, we have needed to turn this page for decades. And today, we will.”
The mayor also cited the “threat to public safety” some of the city’s statues pose as a reason for using his powers. Protesters in recent days have attempted to bring them down themselves in scenes that authorities warn could be dangerous.
Virginia became a focal point around the nationwide debate about removing Confederate monuments in 2017, after one person was killed and 19 others were injured in Charlottesville when white supremacists and neo-Nazis protested the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee.
Last month, protesters in Richmond toppled a monument of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy, and protesters tried to pull down a statue of Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart. A statue of Christopher Columbus in the city was also recently torn down by protesters.
The move by Stoney comes on the same day that a state law went into effect that gives localities the ability to remove or alter Confederate monuments in their communities. The measure outlines a process for a potential removal, including public notice and a public hearing. It also says once a city votes for removal, “for a period of 30 days, offer the monument or memorial for relocation and placement to any museum, historical society, government, or military battlefield.”
Richmond City Councilwoman Kimberly Gray, a Democrat who is challenging Stoney’s reelection bid, said Wednesday that she is in favor of the monument removals, but criticized the mayor’s move, telling CNN she is concerned it could lead to costly lawsuits.
“I’m all about moving forward and they need to be gone, but all I see is price tags and legal papers – we’re going to be hit with lawsuits tomorrow,” said Gray.
Last month, after Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to remove a statue honoring Lee from Monument Avenue, a number of residents in the city sued to block the removal.
The lawsuit says its removal would adversely affect the plaintiffs by nullifying the neighborhood’s status as a National Historic Landmark district, resulting in “the loss of favorable tax treatment and reduction in property values.”
CNN’s Taylor Romine, Evan Simko-Bednarski, Ryan Nobles and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.