Curious Commonwealth asks: Why is a statue of Stonewall Jackson still on Capitol Square?
When Richmond removed a bronze statue of Lt. Gen. A.P. Hill from its base in December, it appeared the city had completed the removal of all its statues and memorials dedicated to the Confederate cause.
But Curious Commonwealth recently received this question from an area resident: “Why, after all monuments to the Confederacy and Confederate leaders have been removed from Monument Ave. and other locations around Richmond, [does] a statue of Thomas 'Stonewall' Jackson remain on Capitol Square? This after the monument to former governor and segregationist Harry Byrd has been removed from same public square.”
Despite battles to remove Confederate figures from public spaces following protests in 2020, a bronze statue of Confederate Gen. Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson remains on a stone pedestal outside the Virginia State Capitol.
Why are they still there?
“It’s a really weird complex web,” said former Democratic state Del. Jay Jones. He introduced a bill in 2021, with support from then-Gov. Ralph Northam, to remove a statue of onetime Gov. Harry Byrd.
“If I had the control and the power to take all of them down, I would have done that,” Jones said. "I was able to do the Byrd statue because that’s where we had jurisdiction.”
Byrd, whose monument was removed in 2022, led the massive resistance movement of the mid-20th century, blocking school integration.
“I think Byrd was kind of one of the most egregious for folks,” said Clark Mercer, Northam’s then-chief of staff.
He told VPM News that removing monuments requires cooperation between the governor’s office and the General Assembly. But the office was so focused on the legal battle to remove the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, it simply ran out of time.
“If legislation had been submitted for all of the Confederate statues on Capitol Square, it perhaps could have all been done at the same time," he said.
Mercer said he’s not sure what stopped lawmakers from introducing legislation to remove the other statues.
VPM News emailed and called the Division of Legislative Services to find someone who worked on Jones’ bill, but did not receive a response.
‘Politically, it’s not strange at all.’
“My knee-jerk response as an historian is like, ‘Why are you allowing them?’” asked Julian Maxwell Hayter, an associate professor of leadership studies at the University of Richmond. He’s also a Virginia history expert who focuses on Confederate iconography.
“Where has everyone gone that was responsible for taking down the monuments during the pandemic?” he said.
Hayter agreed with Mercer that everyone was focused on the fight to bring down the Lee statue in 2021, so others were overlooked.
“It’s strange that they’re still there,” Hayter said. “On the other hand, politically, it’s not strange at all. And I’m not sure that politicians, not any that I know who are currently in office, are going to expend the political will again to go after the Hunter Holmes McGuire statue or the William 'Extra Billy' Smith statue.”
It’s not an accident that the statues remain, said Rivka Maizlish, a researcher on Southern Poverty Law Center’s Who’s Heritage Project, which tracks Confederate monuments and advocates for their removal.
"[I]t’s not just some anodyne nod to heritage,” Maizlish said. “These are clear symbols saying this is a white space, this is a white country — and to try to rewrite the history of the Civil War as well. So, with that knowledge, we hope that people will understand that it’s completely inappropriate to have names honoring people who fought for slavery and white supremacy.”
Right now, the national focus is on military bases and symbols, Maizlish said. The 2020 National Defense Authorization Act requires the U.S. military to remove all Confederate symbols from its properties by Jan. 1, 2024.
The most significant roadblock to removing other Confederate monuments in Virginia right now is politics. Republicans, who lead the House of Delegates, are largely opposed to removing Confederate monuments. And if a bill to remove the Jackson, McGuire or Smith statues were passed, it would land on the desk of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who’s not taken a public stance on the issue.
VPM News emailed Youngkin’s office about the Capitol Square monuments but did not hear back.
Youngkin, however, recently directed Virginia Military Institute to accept a Confederate memorial statue that will be removed from Arlington National Cemetery.
This story was produced as part of the VPM News series Curious Commonwealth.