Confederate statues removed by Black man after White contractors refused
Confederate flag waving on the wind (Shutterstock)

This week, The Washington Post detailed the story of how a Black contractor named Devon Henry stepped up with his company and took down most of the remaining Confederate monuments set for removal in Richmond, Virginia — when White contractors across the area refused to do so.

"Over the past three years, as the former capital of the Confederacy has taken down more than a dozen monuments to the Lost Cause, Henry — who is Black — has overseen all the work," reported Gregory S. Schneider. "He didn’t seek the job. He had never paid much attention to Civil War history. City and state officials said they turned to Team Henry Enterprises after a long list of bigger contractors — all White-owned — said they wanted no part of taking down Confederate statues."

"For a Black man to step in carried enormous risk. Henry concealed the name of his company for a time and long shunned media interviews. He has endured death threats, seen employees walk away and been told by others in the industry that his future is ruined. He started wearing a bulletproof vest on job sites and got a permit to carry a concealed firearm for protection," said the report. "The drama interrupted Henry’s careful efforts to build his business. But after removing 24 monuments in Virginia and North Carolina, Henry, 45, has grown more comfortable with his role in enabling a historic reckoning with social injustice across the South. The threats haven’t let up; Henry has simply learned to live with them."

For decades, Virginia had a law protecting Confederate monuments, many of which were erected during the imposition of Jim Crow as an intimidation tactic against civil rights proponents. Cities were powerless to remove them even if they wanted to. That changed after the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis marched near the statue and clashed with counterprotesters, leading to the murder of a young woman. After that, the General Assembly passed a law letting cities remove the monuments — but the legal and logistical battles continued for years.

"Over and over, history-minded friends directed Henry to the words of John Mitchell Jr., the civil rights pioneer and editor of the Richmond Planet, a groundbreaking African American newspaper," said the report. "In 1890, the year the state erected an enormous statue of Robert E. Lee on what would become Monument Avenue, Mitchell wrote about the resilience of the Black person in society. 'The Negro … put up the Lee monument,' Mitchell wrote, 'and should the time come, will be there to take it down.'"

Even as the public becomes more aware of Lost Cause revisionism and sentiment has turned in favor of removing the statues, key Republican officials continue to defend them in some places. Most famously, former President Donald Trump proclaimed the removals were an attempt to "vandalize our history." Last year, Missouri state Rep. Tony Lovasco even claimed that if Confederate monuments have to come down, the Lincoln Memorial should also be eliminated.