Virginia governor to announce removal of Robert E. Lee statue

A view from Tuesday, where General Robert E. Lee’s statue in Richmond was surrounded by the protesters.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is expected to announce plans Thursday to eliminate one of the country’s most iconic monuments to the Confederacy, a statue of General Robert E. Lee along Richmond’s major Monument Avenue, a senior administration official told The Associated Press.

The move would be a victory for civil rights activists, who have been asking for the removal of the statue for years. Such calls in this former capital of the Confederacy have been resisted for years.

“That is a symbol for so many people, black and otherwise, of a time gone by of hate and oppression and being made to feel less than,” stated Del. Jay Jones, a black lawmaker from Norfolk. He said he was “overcome” by emotion when he learned the statue has to be removed.

The Democratic governor will direct the statue to be shifted from its massive pedestal and put into storage while his administration seeks input on a new location, the official said, on condition of anonymity because the official was not allowed to speak before the governor’s announcement.

Northam’s decision comes amid protests and riots across the nation over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died allegedly after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

Floyd’s death has caused outrage over issues of racism and police brutality and resulted in a new wave of Confederate memorial removals in which even some of their longtime supporters have relented.

The Lee statue is among the five Confederate monuments together with Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential street and National Historic Landmark district. Monuments along the avenue have been rallying points during protests in the recent times over Floyd’s death, and they have been tagged with graffiti, including messages that say “end police brutality” and “stop white supremacy.”

It was not clear as of now when the statue would be removed.

Confederate memorials began coming down after a Dylan Roof killed nine black people at a Bible study in a church in South Carolina in 2015.

On Wednesday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced plans to look forward to the removal of the other Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, which has statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Those statues are situated on city land, unlike the Lee statue, which is on state property.

Stoney stated he would introduce an ordinance July 1 to have the statues eliminated. That’s when a new law goes into effect, which was signed previously this year by Northam, that undoes a present state law protecting Confederate monuments and instead allows local governments decide their fate.

“I appreciate the recommendations of the Monument Avenue Commission – those were the appropriate recommendations at the time,” Stoney said, referencing a panel he founded which studied what should be done with the monuments and recommended the removal of the Davis tribute. “But times have changed, and removing these statues will allow the healing process to begin for so many Black Richmonders and Virginians. Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy – it is filled with diversity and love for all – and we need to show that.”

Bill Gallasch, president of the Monument Avenue Preservation Society, said he worried the statues’ removal would modify the “soul” of the street, damage tourism in historic Richmond and stir up violence between far-right and far-left groups.

The monument-removal plans also attracted criticism from the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase, who is also running for governor, started a petition on her campaign website to save these statues.

“The radical left will not be satisfied until all white people are purged from our history books,” Chase’s website said.




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