A Monumental Dilemma

By: Alexandra Ellmauer, L ’18

It is no surprise that the former capital of the Confederacy memorializes Confederate Heroes.In the wake of recent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, monuments in Richmond are in the spotlight now more than ever. At the center of this discussion is Monument Avenue, a National Historic Landmark District.

Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury tower over the boulevard frequented by locals and tourists every day.

Virginia Law and Richmond City Ordinances currently prohibit removal of war veteran monuments.[1] Thus, if the city decides to remove any of the statues on Monument Avenue, it would need to make an amendment by ordinance.[2] Should such an ordinance pass, removal would still require significant time and money.[3]

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe have both spoken out against the removal of the statues because they place funding priorities elsewhere.[4] Stoney believes that although the statues raise concern, the presence of the Confederate statues would be acceptable if “context” is added.[5] Adding context to the monuments would expound on the history of the monuments and why they are located in Richmond.[6]

Stoney organized a Monument Avenue Commission in June 2017, to study the state of public opinion toward the monuments and “make recommendations … on how to best tell the real story of these [m]onuments.”[7] The Commission has been hosting public hearings in Richmond to gain a better understanding of the public’s opinion about the monuments. The findings of the commission will determine Stoney’s next move, which may entail action on behalf of the Richmond City Council.


The City of New Orleans passed a city ordinance in December 2015, that covers the destruction of city-owned monuments. Section 146-611 of the Code of the City of New Orleans prohibits the removal of statues from public property generally.[8] The law, however, grants the City Council a power to remove a monument on a finding that: (1) the monument represents beliefs that are in conflict with the fundamental rights of citizens; (2) has been or has the potential to be the site of violent activities; or (3) requires an unjustified expense, weighed against the historical significance of the monument.[9] It is, therefore, within the council’s power to remove any of the monuments in New Orleans if they can reasonably satisfy at least one of the above points.

This ordinance was challenged shortly after its passage. In one case, McGraw v. City of New Orleans,[10] a New Orleans resident claimed he had ownership over three of the Confederate monuments that the city wanted to remove. He argued that he spent considerable time and money to maintain and preserve the monuments.[11] The court, however, asserted that his investments of time and money were voluntary and confirmed that the city owned the statues.[12]

If Richmond passes a comparable ordinance that allows the city to remove public monuments under certain criteria, the city would face a similar legal challenge. What remains unclear, however, is whether the city actually has complete ownership of the monuments.[13] The Commonwealth of Virginia owns the Lee monument,[14] but sources point to conflicting answers about who owns each of the other four monuments.[15]

The time and expense of removing Confederate monuments may hinder Richmond from changing the history that stands over Monument Avenue. The Monument Avenue Commission’s findings will shape the future of the monuments. If you wish to share your opinion, you can register your input here.


[1] Va. Code Ann. § 15.2-1812 (2017) https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title15.2/chapter18/section15.2-1812/; Code of the City of Richmond § 19-78 (2017), https://library.municode.com/va/richmond/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIICICO_CH19OFMIPR_ARTIVOFAGPR_S19-78DEREPR.

[2] Rules of Procedure of the City Council of Richmond, Virginia, Amendment of Rules (2017) http://www.richmondgov.com/CityClerk/documents/RulesofProcedure.pdf.

[3] It took the City of New Orleans 17 months to remove Confederate monuments after an amended ordinance allowing such action was passed. See McGraw v. City of New Orleans, 215 So. 3d 319, 326 (March 17 2017).

[4] Graham Moomaw, McAuliffe: Funding Richmond Schools More Important than Taking Down Confederate Monuments, Richmond Times Dispatch, Aug. 31, 2017, http://www.richmond.com/news/virginia/government-politics/mcauliffe-funding-richmond-schools-more-important-than-taking-down-confederate/article_ddec3913-5f03-5db1-ae3c-d461c17319b6.html

[5] Ned Oliver, Mayor Stoney: Richmond’s Confederate Monuments Can Stay, but ‘Whole Story’ Must be Told, Richmond Times Dispatch, June 22, 2017, http://www.richmond.com/news/local/city-of-richmond/mayor-stoney-richmond-s-confederate-monuments-can-stay-but-whole/article_80e564f7-69f3-5897-a579-5799a9293b68.html

[6] https://www.monumentavenuecommission.org/remarks/

[7] https://www.monumentavenuecommission.org/remarks/

[8] New Orleans Code of Ordinances § 146-611 (2017), https://library.municode.com/la/new_orleans/codes/code_of_ordinances?nodeId=PTIICO_CH146STSIOTPUPL_ARTVIIPUMO_S146-611REPUPR.

[9] Id.

[10] McGraw v. City of New Orleans, 215 So. 3d 319, 326 (March17 2017).

[11] Id.

[12] Id. at 332-33.

[13] Sources offer contradicting information regarding ownership of the monuments. See National Park Service, National Historic Landmark Nomination: Monument Avenue (1997) https://npgallery.nps.gov/pdfhost/docs/NHLS/Text/70000883.pdf; see also City of Richmond Public Art Commission, Revealing Richmond: A Public Art Master Plan for the City of Richmond, Virginia, (March 2017), 57; see also Jackie Kruszewski, Is Monument Avenue Set in Stone?, Style Weekly, April 4, 2017, https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/is-monument-avenue-set-in-stone/Content?oid=2909428; see also Mark Holmberg, Why Monument Avenue is Safe as Other Cities Remove Civil War Statues, WTVR, April 28, 2017, http://wtvr.com/2017/04/28/why-monument-avenue-is-safe-as-cities-remove-civil-war-statues/.

[14] United States Dep’t of the Interior, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Nov. 21, 2006, http://www.dhr.virginia.gov/registers/Cities/Richmond/127-0181_LeeMonument_2006_NRdraft.pdf.

[15] Supra note 12.