Jun 4, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Virginia governor announces removal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue

Robert E Lee statue
Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Thursday that the state will remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond's historic Monument Avenue.

Why it matters: It's a watershed moment for Virginia, which has been at the center of a years-long national debate about whether Confederate monuments should be displayed publicly. That discussion reached a boiling point when protests about a statue of Lee in Charlottesville turned violent in 2017.

  • The issue has been reignited after six days of protests in Virginia's capital over the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd and broader issues of systemic racism.
  • Northam said he will direct the Department of General Services to remove the statue and place it into storage "as soon as possible," and that the state will "work with the community to determine its future."

What they're saying:

"In 2020, we can no longer honor a system that was based on the buying and selling of enslaved people. Yes, that statue has been there for a long time. But it was wrong then, and it is wrong now. So we’re taking it down. I believe in a Virginia that studies its past in an honest way. I believe that when we learn more, we can do more. And I believe that when we learn more — when we take that honest look at our past — we must do more than just talk about the future."
— Gov. Northam

The big picture: Civil rights activists in the state have said the statue, as well as other Confederate iconography, pays deference to America's legacy of slavery and racism. Others have argued they represent Southern history and heritage.

  • Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said on Tuesday he would introduce an ordinance to remove four other famous statues honoring the Confederacy.
  • "[T]imes have changed, and removing these statues will allow the healing process to begin for so many Black Richmonders and Virginians," Stoney said. "Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy — it is filled with diversity and love for all — and we need to demonstrate that.”
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