People in the audience wore plastic ponchos or sat under large golf umbrellas for protection from the rain, which ended a few minutes before dignitaries unveiled the Emancipation and Freedom Monument.
The monument, featuring two 12-foot-tall statues of a man and a woman holding an infant after they were freed from slavery, honors the contributions of Black Virginians in the "centuries-long fight for emancipation and freedom," according to the Virginia Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Commission
, which commissioned it.
The dedication comes two weeks after crews removed the 12-ton statue of Lee on his horse from its massive stone base on Richmond's Monument Avenue.
The statue became a focal point for Black Lives Matter protests
following the murder of George Floyd
by a Minneapolis police officer and its base was covered in graffiti.
"Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value," said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.
He called the removal of the Lee statue "one of my proudest days" and praised Richmond officials for transforming the former capital of the Confederacy into a progressive and inclusive city.
"You know, we talk often about the need to make sure that we tell and teach the full and true story of our shared history, how we must ensure that everyone understands where we have been so we can build a more inclusive future together," Northam said.
That includes teaching about the "horrors of slavery and the terrors of the Jim Crow era," he said.
"But in this monument, we see a different part of the story," Northam said. "These figures embody the power, the power of emancipation and the power of freedom."
The monument was designed by Oregon sculptor Thomas Jay Warren, the commission's website said.
The names of 10 Black Virginians are featured at the base of the monument -- five who fought to end slavery before emancipation and five who fought for equality between 1865 and 1970.
The list includes
Mary Elizabeth Bowser, who served as a Union spy in the Confederate White House, William Harvey Carney, a former slave who became the first Black Medal of Honor recipient
, John Mercer Langston, Virginia's first Black member of Congress and prominent educator Lucy Simms.