A statue of Confederate war general Robert E. Lee will be removed this Wednesday from the pedestal it has occupied in Richmond, Virginia, for the past 131 years.
According to a press release detailing the plans for the removal, the Lee monument in Virginia’s capital city is the “largest Confederate statue remaining in the United States,” weighing in at 12 tons. Removing the statue, which unduly celebrates “the Confederate insurrection,” is an important step “in showing who [Virginians] are and what we value as a Commonwealth,” Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said in a statement.
Protective fencing will be erected around the statue on Tuesday “to ensure the safety of the crews removing the statue and those who choose to view it in person,” per the press release. There will also be an FAA-enforced “no-fly zone” for drones above the statue.
Such statues in other parts of the country have been taken down with little fanfare, sometimes in the dead of night, to avoid the anger of residents who have protested their removal. These protesters have errantly described the taking-down of Confederate monuments as somehow erasing history. This narrative neglects to account for the fact that the statues themselves were part of a rebranding campaign by Confederate apologists for the reasons behind the Civil War, especially during the era of Jim Crow laws.
But now, Richmond, Virginia, is set to correct that racist historical narrative with the removal of the Lee statue this week, Governor Northam’s office has said. Spectators will be allowed to watch the taking-down of the statue, but from a distance. The event will also be livestreamed on the internet.
Northam had wanted to remove the statue last year, days after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota, which prompted uprisings across the country. But the governor was stopped from doing so by a pair of lawsuits from residents and a descendant of the family that leased the property where the statue stands to the government. According to those lawsuits, the city and the state were restricted by agreements made in the deed for the land.
However, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that the restrictions cited by the litigants in the two lawsuits were “unenforceable as contrary to public policy” and were “unreasonable because their effect is to compel government speech.” As a result, the court said, the state had the right to remove the statue.
Several lawmakers from the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus praised the ruling, and the impending removal of the statue, in tweets they made last week.
“I pass the Lee monument each time I drive to work to serve the people of Virginia and move our Commonwealth forward. The statue represents trauma for the Black community,” said state Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D) who is the caucus vice chair. “It’s about time we removed this statue.”
“For far too long, the Lee statue stood tall in our capital and represented nothing but division and white supremacy — but it is finally coming down,” state Senate President pro Tempore Louise Lucas (D) said in celebration of the court’s ruling.
Some commentators, however, noted that more work, beyond the removal of a statue, was sorely needed.
“It’s 2021 and American cities are still celebrating a Confederate, slave-owning, racist traitor who died 150 years ago,” lamented political commentator Keith Boykin. “But Black people can’t talk about the lingering effects of slavery or the need for reparations.”