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‘The News Has Moved On’: Fundraising For Richmond’s Monument Removal Stalls

photo of richmond's matthew fontaine maury statue with an empty pedestal
Crews removed the statue to Confederate Naval Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury on Richmond's Monument Avenue on July 2. (Coleman Jennings/VPM Photo)

After nearly three weeks, online fundraising efforts to reimburse Richmond for removing Confederate monuments have raised only $30,000. It's well short of the $1.8 million the city says it spent to take down nearly a dozen statues.

The group called The Fund to Move the Monuments has two separate online fundraisers going, attracting donations from around 450 people. One  Facebook fundraiser has currently raised about $15,600. A similar fundraiser on Go Fund Me has taken in about $14,600. Both were created by Shanon Harton, a local realtor who said he was looking for a way to help contribute to the removal of Confederate symbolism in the city.

Harton said the donations poured in quickly at first, but in the past week only five people contributed on the Go Fund Me page. He believes fundraising has stalled because of waning attention from the media and the public.

“Even though the news has moved on to that one remaining monument and the larger social justice issues, it’s still a giant hole in the budget that the city cannot afford,” he said. “I really want people to focus on that, because it’s going to come out of potholes that we want filled, parks that we want mowed, and schools, most crucially.”

The city, however, says it is not relying solely on private philanthropy to pay for the removal of Confederate monuments. The $1.8 million came from the Department of Public Works budget, which is expecting to receive more state transportation funding from  the newly created Central Virginia Transportation Authority.

Jim Nolan, a spokesperson for Mayor Levar Stoney, said the ultimate decision to take the monuments down was not about money, but about public safety.

“We certainly appreciate the efforts of community members and organizations who have expressed an interest in supporting the city’s removal of the monuments,” Nolan said. “Regardless of circumstances, our responsibility to ensure the public health and public safety of our residents, businesses and visitors at all times does not change. The city spends, and will continue to spend, the resources necessary to do so.”

When Harton first created the Facebook fundraiser on June 29, the city had already seen about a month of daily protests against police brutality. One of the protesters' demands was the removal of all of the Confederate statues along Monument Avenue. 

Harton said part of the impetus for putting the fundraisers together was to head off criticisms that the city was wasting money. He reached out to Laura Lafayette and the board of the non-profit Maggie L. Walker Land Trust to act as a receiver for the donations. 

But then, on July 1, Mayor Levar Stoney unilaterally ordered the immediate removal of the monuments, and cranes pulled up the Stonewall Jackson statue.

Lafayette, who chairs the Maggie L. Walker Land Trust board, said the purpose of the fundraising shifted.

“Now we’re in the position of trying to encourage people to reimburse the city for something it’s already done. I honestly think that’s going to be a challenge,” Lafayette said. 

There were some plans in the works to try and find larger corporate or non-profit donors, but Harton said that’s been put on hold until donations pick up. Organizers plan to keep the online fundraisers up through the summer, and then any money raised will be transferred from the land trust to the city via a resolution by Richmond City Council. 

Harton said he had no expectations when he started the fundraiser, so he’s neither surprised nor disappointed.

“I feel like the city has a lot of making up to do, so this was my small way I could help with making up,” he said, “If we get 451 people that didn’t have any other mode to help before, then I’m pleased with that.” 

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