In Richmond, as in many other places, the argument over race now centers on whether American institutions have racism baked in.
Maggie Johnston, 62, a waitress who is white, might have rejected that notion earlier in life. She grew up in a Republican family whose firm belief was that hard work always brought success. But time in prison — and a wrenching reckoning with her own mistakes — opened her eyes.
Ms. Johnston, who watched the monument come down on Wednesday while walking her dog Peanut, said her friends say, “I’m a hard-working person and I don’t have any privilege.” She tells them that privilege is not about money. “Privilege is about thinking the world works for everybody else the way it works for you.”
Mr. Husband argued that the current thinking from conservatives on race was about who has the right to define America: “It says don’t mess with our power. Our power is in our ability to create the narrative of history.”
Corey Widmer, pastor at Third Church, a mostly white, largely conservative church in Richmond, said he had wrestled with resistance to the current moment. He has worked hard to help his congregants accept how much the country has moved on race. They have read books, held Zoom sessions and debated what was happening. Some congregants changed. Others left the church.
“There’s so much fear and so much political polarization,” said Mr. Widmer, who is white. He said every pastor in Richmond who is trying to help white Christians see Black Americans’ perspective and “reckon with our own responsibility has really been grieved by the conflict and pain that it has caused.”
He added: “And yet this is how we change. Face it head on. Work through it. Love each other. Try to stay at the table. And just keep working. I don’t know what else to do.”
On Wednesday morning, with the pedestal now empty, and General Lee on his way to a state warehouse, Mr. Flowers, the radio show host, was happy. He said he planned to celebrate by telling pictures of his dead relatives that “the humiliation and agony and pain you suffered has been partly lifted.”