Meet the Black Man Who Took Down the Robert E. Lee Monument

Devon Henry, the contractor who dismantled Richmond’s Confederate monuments, has a conversation during the unveiling of “The Thirteen Stars” charity NFT Collection on July 29, 2022, at the Black History Museum in Richmond.
Devon Henry, the contractor who dismantled Richmond’s Confederate monuments, has a conversation during the unveiling of “The Thirteen Stars” charity NFT Collection on July 29, 2022, at the Black History Museum in Richmond.

Virginia contractor Devon Henry was called from the office of former Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to join the effort in taking down statues honoring the Confederacy. According to h The Washington Post, Team Henry Enterprises was nearly a last resort given the “overtly racist” refusals from other white-owned companies.

What a full circle moment. Black people were forced to construct monuments glorifying the very people oppressing them. Now a Black man was given the chance to break those fixtures back down.

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Clark Mercer, chief of staff for the former governor, called Henry in June 2020 requesting the dismantling of the Robert E. Lee statue, the report says . At that time, social justice protestors had begun combining the dismantling of Confederate statues in their fight against police brutality and white supremacy. The pressure was high on politicians to take those memorials down.

“I was pretty forthcoming that we hadn’t been able to find anybody to take on the job. Devon seemed to understand the magnitude of what I was asking him,” Mercer said in a WashPo interview.

Mercer also recalled receiving threatening, racist language from the white-owned companies he called. Henry faced the same threats, if not worse, upon taking the job.

Read more from The Washington Post:

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.

For a Black man to destroy such a symbol would put his life, his family, his livelihood on the line. Henry knew that in Louisiana, a White contractor withdrew from the job of removing four Confederate monuments after receiving death threats. Someone torched the man’s car.

But Henry saw this as a powerful chance to give a bit of justice to the souls represented by the memorial to enslaved people.

Lee’s statue was at the center of most controversy regarding the movement of taking down confederate monuments (insert the picture of the graffiti covered base of Lee’s statue). Virginia didn’t stop there. Recently, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney called on Team Henry Enterprises to remove the city’s last public Confederate statue, a piece honoring General A.P. Hill, per an AP report.

The statue was a bit more difficult to take down given it was partly a gravesite - the general’s remains were buried underneath and had to be relocated. Henry’s company helped Richmond take down a number of the city’s confederate monuments since 2020, per WashPo.

As we approach Black History Month, it’s important to keep in mind the people rewriting and reclaiming our history. The Bruce family out in California reclaimed the property stolen from their ancestors. Devon Henry led a Black-owned company to dismantling a famous white supremacist monument. By conquering our past, we’re making our own historical moments.

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