Virginia to remove 12-ton Robert E. Lee statue in state capital this week

Getty Images/Bill Tompkins

(NEW YORK) — More than a year after Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the removal of a giant statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the state’s capital, the monument will be coming down this week, state officials announced Monday.

The statue, erected in Richmond in 1890, will be removed from Monument Avenue this Wednesday, nearly a week after the Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way for the state-owned monument to come down following several legal battles.

“Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will come down this week,” Northam said in a statement. “This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth.”

Northam ordered the removal of the statue in June 2020, amid nationwide protests against symbols of racism and oppression that erupted following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.

Last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia denied or dissolved injunctive relief sought in two lawsuits challenging the statue’s removal — one filed by a descendant of the former owners of the land where the monument stands, the other by several owners and a trustee of property in the area’s historic district — allowing the state to move forward with its plans.

The removal of the 12-ton, six-story statue is “extremely complex,” the state’s Department of General Services said, and will require “coordination with multiple entities to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”

The removal process will begin Tuesday evening, when crews will install protective fencing on the streets near the monument. All cars and pedestrians will be cleared from the area at that time.

The state will host a public viewing of the statue’s removal beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday. On Thursday, crews will remove plaques from the base of the monument. The 40-foot granite pedestal will remain for now, with its future still to be determined, the state said.

The statue itself will be held “in secure storage at a state-owned facility until a decision is made as to its disposition,” the state said.

This is the sixth and final Confederate statue to be removed from Monument Avenue.

“We are taking an important step this week to embrace the righteous cause and put the ‘Lost Cause’ behind us,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement. “Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy. We are a diverse, open and welcoming city, and our symbols need to reflect this reality.”

Last year, the busts of Lee and eight other Confederate leaders were removed from the Old House Chamber in the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond. The Fairfax County School Board has also changed the name of the Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield to the John R. Lewis High School, in honor of the late Georgia congressman and civil rights leader.

A great-great-great-nephew of Lee has previously said that taking down Confederate symbols in public spaces is a “no brainer.”

“I see them as idolatries,” Rev. Robert Lee IV told ABC News last year. “They have been created into idols of white supremacy and racism.”

Over 160 Confederate symbols were renamed or removed from public spaces in 2020, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

 

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