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Devon Henry, The Black Man Who Risked His Life To Remove Confederate Statues When White Contractors Refused

Devon<a href=httpshowafricacom> <a>Henry<a href=httpshowafricacom> <a>owns Team Henry Enterprises Photo NBC 12

 

When former Gov. Ralph Northam’s office asked for bids to remove the massive Robert E. Lee Monument in June 2020, several white contractors declined. Many people were afraid or unwilling to jeopardize their careers by touching Confederate statues at a time when emotions were running high in Richmond following the murder of George Floyd and the outbreak of a pandemic.

Devon Henry, a Black man who owns Team Henry Enterprises, then arrived. The 45-year-old was willing to put his life and career on the line to remove the Lee statue from state-owned property on Monument Avenue. Henry would later be in charge of the removal of 24 Confederate monuments in Virginia and North Carolina. By doing so, he fulfilled Richmond civil rights activist and newspaper editor John Mitchell’s prophecy. Mitchell wrote in his paper in 1890, after Black laborers hoisted Lee onto his pedestal, that “the Negro… put up the Lee Monument, and should the time come, will be there to take it down.”

“To realize that something that was said in the late 1800s was coming to fruition in 2021 and that I was the guy that he was speaking of. It’s extremely, extremely emotional,” Henry told NBC 12.

Prior to Northam’s chief of staff Clark Mercer’s request to help remove the Lee statue in June 2020, Henry had not considered Confederate statues. Following his work as the general contractor for the University of Virginia’s Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, Henry had gained an understanding of the significance that people placed on monuments. He understood what removing a Lee statue represented. As a result, he decided to take the job. However, this came with numerous threats to his life and business.

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Putting together a team to work with was difficult. “‘Hell no, Devon, I’m not touching that,’ everyone said. No way, no how are we going to back you up. We’re not going to assist you in any way.’ “These were people we had worked with for years,” he told NBC 12. He received death threats in addition to losing some of his employees. According to The Washington Post, he began wearing a bulletproof vest on job sites and obtained a permit to carry a concealed firearm for protection.

“Then we get a call that there’s an injunction. “As a result, we had to halt everything,” Henry explained. Local residents filed a lawsuit to prevent him from removing the Lee statue, so the project was halted. Other Confederate statues on city property, however, may be removed. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney wanted to demolish the statues but ran into the same issue of finding a contractor. During the racial justice protests that followed Floyd’s death, demonstrators were tearing down some of the statues.

The mayor contacted Henry, and despite a “ton of threats,” he agreed to take the job. As he removed the Stonewall Jackson Monument in Richmond in 2020, the Black businessman recalled the chaotic scene. Although deputies were provided for safety, the police chief refused to provide crowd control because state law still prohibited the removal of the statue. It also began to rain before the crane could lift the statue.

“The moment couldn’t have been more script and just more perfect. With everything that was happening from the weather, to the people, to the energy, to us just figuring out, we just took down the first Confederate statue here in the former capital of the Confederacy,” Henry recounted.

“People are crying, people are jumping up and down, I’m going crazy,” Henry told the Post. “At this point, law enforcement had no control. It was a hundred percent chaotic.”

Others in Libby Hill were removed after the Stonewall monument, including Matthew Fontaine Maury, JEB Stuart, Confederate cannons, and Soldiers & Sailors. Henry, on the other hand, had not forgotten about the Lee statue. The Virginia Supreme Court ruled in September 2021 that the project to remove it could proceed. Leading that project was “extremely emotional,” according to Henry. Lee had died after 131 years.

Henry had been inspired to take on this risky project by his humble beginnings. His mother gave birth to him when she was 16 years old. When he was 14, he worked alongside his mother at McDonald’s in Hampton Roads. He attended Norfolk State University and worked at General Electric before launching his construction company with his savings.

While a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Incorporated at NSU, he met the late Congressman John Lewis, who was also a member. Lewis always asked him if he was “getting in good trouble”.

“And I would tell him ‘we’re doing things,’ and he would say, “You could do more.”

“So every time I do one of these removals, there is that thought of Good Trouble, and I always have that t-shirt on,” said Henry.

 

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Written by How Africa News

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