Dec 23, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Historians open 19th century time capsule found under Lee statue

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (C) watches as the contents of a time capsule from the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee are removed.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (center) watches as the contents of a time capsule from the pedestal that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee are removed. Photo: Virginia first lady Pamela Northam/Twitter

Virginia historians on Wednesday opened a 19th century time capsule found last week in the pedestal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which was removed from Richmond's Monument Avenue this year.

What they're saying: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam denounced the monument's Confederate myth that seeks to minimize slavery's role in the American Civil War, but said the capsule's opening was "an important day for the history" of Virginia as it "gives us an idea what folks were thinking about at this time of our history," per the Washington Post.

  • The Democratic governor said in a statement after the Lee statue was removed in September, "This monument and its time capsule reflected Virginia in 1890 — and it's time to remove both, so that our public spaces better reflect who we are as a people in 2021."

The big picture: The Lee statue was one of dozens of Confederate monuments removed in response to last year's Black Lives Matter protests, which brought to the fore civil rights advocates' point that such symbols pay deference to the U.S. history of slavery and racism.

  • Northam lifted the lid of the capsule, which wasn't discovered until last Friday. Inside were items including an 1875 almanac, a British coin, some books and a cloth envelope.
  • Historians believe the capsule dates from 1887, according to the governor's office.

The intrigue: Julie Langan, director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, noted to the New York Times that the "odd assortment" differed from an 1887 newspaper description that indicated a capsule placed beneath the monument contained "a rare photo of Abraham Lincoln in his coffin."

Go deeper: New capsule installed at base that held up Robert E. Lee statue

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