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Congress urged to remove Confederate statues on Capitol Hill as Virginia protesters topple monument

Protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, adding it to the list of Old South monuments removed or damaged around the United States in the wake of George Floyd's death. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday it's high time Congress acted on Confederate statues that dot Capitol Hill.

In separate move, Senate panel OK's plan to review Confederate names on military installations

Anti-racism protesters in Richmond, Virginia attack symbol of Confederate past

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The toppling of a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis was among several instances of monuments being defaced across the United States. 0:33

Protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis in the former capital of the Confederacy, adding it to the list of Old South monuments removed or damaged around the United States in the wake of George Floyd's death.

The 2.4-metre bronze figure on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., had been all but marked for removal by city leaders in a matter of weeks, but demonstrators took matters into their own hands Wednesday night, tying ropes around its legs and toppling it from its towering stone pedestal onto the pavement.

A crowd cheered and police looked on as the monument — installed by a Confederate heritage group in 1907 during the Jim Crow era — was towed away.

There were no immediate reports of any arrests.

In the weeks since Floyd's death under a white Minneapolis police officer's knee set off protests and sporadic violence across the U.S. over the treatment of black people, many Confederate monuments have been damaged or brought down, some toppled by demonstrators and others removed by local authorities.

Virginia's governor has ordered the removal of the confederate general's statue, which has towered over visitors to Richmond for over a century. Democratic state senator Jennifer McClellan says the move is part of telling "a truthful story" about U.S. history. 6:30

The Davis monument was a few blocks away from the statue of the most revered Confederate of them all, Gen. Robert E. Lee, that the state of Virginia is trying to take down. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam last week ordered its removal, but a judge on Monday blocked such action for at least 10 days.

The spokesperson for the Virginia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, B. Frank Earnest, condemned the toppling of "public works of art" and likened losing the Confederate statues to losing a family member.

"The men who served under Robert E. Lee were my great-grandfathers or their brothers and their cousins. So it is my family," he said. "What if a crowd of any other group went and found the symbols of someone they didn't like and decided to tear them down? Everybody would be appalled."

"But I don't know why it's acceptable, why people who are descended from the Confederate Army and the Confederate soldiers, it's accepted in this country that you can do anything to us you want."

Davis statue also featured on Capitol Hill

The toppling of the Davis statue reflected protesters' impatience with political leaders. A commission of historians and government leaders in 2018 had recommended taking down the monument.

Also Wednesday night, protesters in Portsmouth, Va., about 130 kilometres away, knocked the heads off the statues of four Confederates and pulled one of the statues to the ground after the city council put off a decision on moving the monument.

In this June 24, 2015 file photo, a statue of Jefferson Davis, second from left, president of the Confederate States from 1861 to 1865, is on display in Statuary Hall on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

A protester was hit in the head and knocked unconscious as the monument fell. He was hospitalized with what police said were life-threatening injuries.

In Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that it's time to remove symbols honouring Confederate figures from the U.S. Capitol building and military bases. The presence of statues of generals and other figures in Capitol locations such as Statuary Hall — the original House chamber — has been denounced by African American lawmakers for many years. 

Davis is also represented there in a statue chosen by Mississippi. Pelosi noted that Davis and Confederate vice-president Alexander Stephens, whose statue on Capitol Hill comes from Georgia, "were charged with treason against the United States."

Trump 'doesn't get it': Pelosi

Meanwhile, a Republican-led Senate panel on Thursday approved a plan by Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren to have the names of Confederate figures removed from military bases and other Pentagon assets.

The ban would be imposed within three years and was approved by a voice vote as a piece of the annual Pentagon policy bill. A commission would be set up to oversee the process.

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he was opposed to renaming military bases.

"He seems to be the only person left who doesn't get it," Pelosi said.

In addition to the activity in Virginia, seven people were arrested for vandalizing statues of Christopher Columbus and Juan Ponce de Leon in Miami, the city's police said.

Demonstrators spray-painted statues of Columbus and Ponce de Leon, another Spanish explorer who landed in Florida, in Bayfront Park with "George Floyd," "BLM" (Black Lives Matter) and a hammer and sickle, news outlets reported. Miami police said officers who responded to the scene were assaulted and their car was damaged.

Graffiti is seen on a vandalized statue of Christopher Columbus at the Bayside Marketplace in downtown Miami late Tuesday. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

There is "zero tolerance for those who hide behind the peaceful protesters to incite riots, damage property and hurt members of the public or our officers," police said in a news release announcing the arrests.

Statues of Columbus across the country are often vandalized on Columbus Day in October as the 15th-century explorer has become a polarizing figure. Native American advocates have also long pressed states to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day over concerns that Columbus spurred centuries of genocide against Indigenous populations in the Americas.

Corrections

  • An earlier version stated a person was seriously injured during the toppling of a Confederate statue of Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Va. In fact, a person was seriously injured in an incident at a monument in Portsmouth, Va.
    Jun 11, 2020 1:45 PM ET

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