About half a dozen Neo-Confederates came from out of state to Richmond Saturday, stirring tensions and drawing hundreds of counter protesters. Many of the anti-racism protesters began their day at a unity rally at the city’s Maggie Walker monument.
For hundreds in Richmond, Saturday began at a unity rally hosted by the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy.
“On this day when a group calling itself the New Confederate States of America has arrived in our city, “ declared Adria Scharf of the Richmond Peace Education Center. “We stand united in the former capital of the Confederacy in absolutely rejecting false lost cause myths of the past, there’s no going backwards.”
Richmond resident Gary Pegeas admitted he doesn’t think the city should move its Confederate monuments.
He’s glad though that everyone is finally talking about what the monuments stand for.
“It was being talked about but real subtle-like, and things just get worse and worse and worse as far as division is concerned,” Pegeas says. “I think this is the beginning of bringing people together. The beginning, just the beginning.”
Most of the day’s action happened around the heavily barricaded Robert E. Lee monument. Police were enforcing a ban on sticks, shields and helmets. But because of state law, they couldn’t bar legally-carried firearms.
With a gun at his hip and a Donald Trump hat on, Edward Perry walked easily through one of the limited access points. Laughing, he said his friends told him to be careful.
“The majority of them, they don’t like the Confederacy,” he added.
But Perry was drawn to the Confederacy. Growing up in Charlottesville, it felt like his history. Even still, he didn’t think much about the monuments until recently, when people started to talk of them coming down.
“Even as a kid in Charlottesville, it was just a big guy on a big horse. That’s all it was. But I don’t know, I guess these eventually will come down. I don’t know. I hope not,” said Perry.
Reaching the monument itself, Perry didn’t join the tiny handful of pro-Confederate demonstrators but lingered at the edges, talking to counter protesters and reporters.
Sitting on a nearby curb, just watching, was Harrison Hayes.
“I never really knew or understand about the monuments until I went off to college. Which is awful, because I’ve lived here all my life,” Hayes admitted.
He works for a community outreach and education program through VCU, and spends a lot of time in Richmond’s primarily black public housing units. Watching the crowd shout down white supremacy, he struggled to find his thoughts.
“I wish it was for another purpose honestly,” Hayes said. “People are concerned about how they’re going to make the next month’s rent, where their food is going to come, whether their child is safe on the street. And it’s just interesting to see that a lot of people are coming out here for something like this when there’s just so much of a need in the city in other areas.”
What a difference it would make, Hayes added, if fighting systemic poverty or improving public education could ignite the same passion these statues have.