Wednesday, the state of Virginia removed the 12-ton statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee more than 130 years after it was installed amid efforts to change the collective memory of the Civil War.
Despite its massive size, it was lifted from its pedestal in one piece and is headed for storage. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, was there as the statue came down and appeared pleased by its removal. A crowd also chanted and cheered as Lee — atop a horse — was lifted into the air by a crane.
Northam announced plans to remove the statue in June 2020, during nightly racial justice protests in Richmond, Va., after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, but that plan was held up by lawsuits, including one from a group of residents from Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue that wanted to keep the 40-foot tall memorial intact. Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court decided to bring it down.
In the decades following its construction in 1890, the statue became a focal point for a wealthy, all-white neighborhood; Lee was later joined by statues to other Confederate leaders. In 1996, a statue of Black tennis champion Arthur Ashe was added to the avenue, despite serious opposition, under the direction of then-Gov. Douglas Wilder, the first Black person to serve as governor of any state since Reconstruction.
Lee’s statue was the largest Confederate monument in the City of Richmond, and one of the largest in the country. Nearly every other Confederate statue in the city was removed last summer, either by protesters or the city itself at the request of Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.
Activists have celebrated the removal of the monument, but have noted it was only one of the demands they’ve made. They say they’ll continue calling for major structural reforms to the state’s criminal justice system.
Officials say the graffiti-covered pedestal will remain in place while discussions continue about the future of Monument Avenue.