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Virginia's Stonewall Jackson monument taken down in former capital of Confederacy

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The statue of a controversial Confederate general was taken down in Virginia Wednesday, after a local mayor used his emergency powers to call for the removal of the Stonewall Jackson monument.

Mayor Levar Stoney issued an order earlier in the day for the statue - unveiled in 1919 - to be removed.

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Using emergency powers, Stoney ordered all Confederate statues to be removed the city’s land.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to surge, and protestors attempt to take down Confederate statues themselves, or confront others who are doing so, the risk grows for serious illness, injury, or death,” the mayor said in a statement. “We have an urgent need to protect the public.”

Stoney said Wednesday’s move would “expedite the healing process for the city, a former capital of the Confederacy constantly grappling with that legacy.”

“Those statues stood high for over 100 years for a reason, and it was to intimidate and to show Black and brown people in this city who was in charge,” Stoney said.

The Jackson statue is the latest of several dozen Confederate symbols removed from public land in the US in the five weeks since the death of Floyd sparked a nationwide protest movement.

In recent weeks, racial tensions have risen in Richmond. A statue of Arthur Ashe - an American tennis player and first black winner of a major men's singles championship - was spraypainted with "White Lives Matter."

Black Lives Matter protests broke out after the May 25 killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis after a white police officer pinned his knee to Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes. The protests demanded social reforms, an end to racism and police brutality.

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Stoney’s decision also came weeks after Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, ordered the removal of the most prominent and imposing statue along the avenue: that of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which sits on state land. The removal of the Lee statue has been stalled pending the resolution of several lawsuits.

Confederate statues were erected decades after the Civil War, during the Jim Crow era, when states imposed new segregation laws, and during the “Lost Cause” movement, when historians and others tried to depict the South’s rebellion as a fight to defend states’ rights, not slavery.

In Richmond, the first major monument — the Lee statue — was erected in 1890.

Work crews spent several hours Wednesday carefully attaching a harness to the massive Stonewall Jackson statue and using power tools to detach it from its base. A crowd of several hundred people who had gathered to watch cheered as a crane lifted the figure of the general atop his horse into the air and set it aside.

- With The Associated Press