Black contractor braves threats in removing Richmond statues
RICHMOND, Va. — Devon Henry paced in nervous anticipation, because this was a project like nothing he’d ever done. He wore the usual hard hat — and a bulletproof vest.
An accomplished Black businessman, Henry took on a job the city says others were unwilling to do: lead contractor for the now-completed removal of 14 pieces of Confederate statuary that dotted Virginia’s capital city. There was angry opposition, and fear for the safety of all involved.
But when a crane finally plucked the equestrian statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson off the enormous pedestal where it had towered over this former capital of the Confederacy for more than a century, church bells chimed, thunder clapped and the crowd erupted in cheers.
Henry’s brother grabbed him, and they jumped up and down. He saw others crying in the pouring rain.
“You did it, man,” said Rodney Henry.
Success came at some cost. Devon Henry faced death threats, questions about the prices he charged, allegations of cronyism over past political donations to the city’s mayor and an inquiry by a special prosecutor. But he has no regrets.
“I feel a great deal of conviction in what we did and how it was done,” Henry, 43, said.
As recently as a few years ago, the removal of Richmond’s collection of Confederate monuments seemed nearly impossible, even as other tributes to rebel leaders around the U.S. started falling.
It was a particularly charged issue in a historic city with a central role in the Civil War. And the statues, especially along historic Monument Avenue, were breathtaking in size and valued for their artistic quality, drawing visitors like Winston Churchill and Dwight Eisenhower.
Stoney, who is Black and has also faced backlash to his role in the monument removals, including racist and threatening voicemails, said in a debate in early October that “what we did was legal, it was appropriate, and it was right.”
Henry “put his life on the line, put his family’s lives on the line, he put his business on the line. And we removed those monuments,” the mayor said.
Records show his Newport News-based Team Henry Enterprises has won more than $100 million in federal contracts in the past decade. The company has handled projects ranging from invasive species removal to crane services for the U.S. Army to general construction. Team Henry was the general contractor on the recently completed Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia.
Henry said the city’s Department of Public Works asked him in mid-June if he would be interested in the statue project. A contractor who turned the city down gave them his name, he said.
Henry huddled with his family to make sure everyone was on board. His son and daughter “started Googling” and “there was most definitely a level of concern” when they read about what happened in Charlottesville Ultimately, they all agreed to take the job. This was an opportunity to be a part of history.