PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Symbols associated with racism, bigotry, slavery and oppression were stripped of romanticism Wednesday as they dangled in the air, coated in colorful paint.
Crews officially began removing Portsmouth’s Confederate monument on Wednesday morning. A crane had removed to the top portion of the monument’s obelisk as of 10:30 a.m. and one of the soldier statues was loaded into a truck.
It comes about a month after the Portsmouth council voted unanimously to relocate the monument, and over two months after the city made national headlines when a man was struck by a statue of a Confederate soldier as it was pulled down during a demonstration on June 10.
The 54-foot-tall monument has stood in the middle of Court Street for more than a century. The monument was built in the center of downtown from 1877 to 1881 — years after the end of the Civil War — and placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1997.
Calls for its removal picked up in recent years, and intensified even more after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, earlier this year. The monument was heavily damaged in the protest on the night of June 10, including the removal of some of the soldiers’ heads.
Dan Mathews, who lives nearby, was part of the movement to get rid of the statue.
“This is a great first step in doing away with the symbols of white supremacy in this country, ” said Mathews.
Former Mayor Kenneth Wright watched from Court and High streets, where the monument stood over what once served as the site of a public whipping post. Historians say adults and even children were allowed to brutally attack slaves.
“Hopefully, this will go national and let them know the mother of all monuments is coming down,” said Wright who served as mayor for six years.
Political careers could go down with the monument.
On June 10 a protest at the monument turned dangerous when a statue was pulled from its base and fell on a bystander, Chris Green. Last Monday,
Portsmouth Police Chief Angela Greene charged State Sen. Louise Lucas and 13 others with felonies for their alleged roles in the destruction. A week later the vice mayor, Lisa Lucas-Burke, who is the senator’s daughter, was charged with two misdemeanors for calling for the firing of the police chief. She allegedly violated the city code by calling for the chief’s removal as an elected official.
Portsmouth NAACP President James Boyd is also one of the 14 people charged in connection with the protest. He joined a small crowd that gathered Wednesday morning as word spread that the monument was coming down. He was arrested twice for his alleged activities at the monument.
Boyd became emotional with 10 On Your Side when he proclaimed that he is willing to get into “good trouble” again while demanding equality, fairness, and justice in Portsmouth.
“More good trouble? And what a perfect day to somebody like [Congressman] John Lewis… I get a little emotional for somebody like John Lewis [recently deceased Congressman and civil rights leader] and those who have sacrificed so much for this city. It’s hard but it’s worth it — like Dr. King [Martin Luther King Jr.] said, the moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice,” said Boyd.
10 On Your Side has reached out to city hall for information on the name of the company hired to remove the monument, the cost of the removal and information on the disposition of the monument remnants.
The city has not publicly explained if they will be spending money to restore the damage to the monument, but previously approved $250,000 to cover the cost of moving it.
While the statue is being relocated, groups still have several more days to make proposals if they want to take it.
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