RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia crews removed a 131-year-old statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee Wednesday morning, one of the largest and most recognizable symbols of Confederate history in the state.
Crews harnessed the 12-ton statue and removed it from its 40-foot pedestal,eliciting cheers from hundreds watching nearby. Some wore Black Lives Matter shirts and chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Hey hey hey, goodbye.”
They hugged and cried, and celebrated the removal of the final Confederate memorial along a Richmond street that got its name from the parade of Confederate monuments along its path.
“It was the last symbol of hate,” Bee Gardner of Richmond exclaimed. Now, he added, his eight-year-old niece “can grow up honoring her racial identity, rather than a lost history.”
Gov. Ralph Northam watched the statue come down and said the removal was overdue because Confederate history does not represent what Virginia is today.
“The public monuments reflect the story we choose to tell about who we are as a people,” the governor said. “It is time to display history as history, and use the public memorials to honor the full and inclusive truth of who we are today and in the future.”
About 200 people gathered in a fenced-off area to watch crews take the statue apart, including Rayshawn Graves of Richmond.
“If these statues were to come alive, they would probably not appreciate me or the fact that I’m free and an equal citizen,” Graves said.
Another witness, David Marshall, said his son has repeatedly asked him about the meaning of the statue. Its removal, he said, means that his youngest daughter will not have to ask that same question.
“Mission complete,” Marshall said.
The centerpiece of Richmond’s Monument Avenue was the road’s last remaining Confederate memorial following a citywide movement to take the statues down. The monument’s continued presence became the focal point for demonstrators rallying for racial justice last summer.
Despite a last-minute effort by proponents to save the statue Tuesday afternoon, crews placed a temporary boundary around the traffic circle and Richmond police began enforcing bans on vehicle traffic and parking for several blocks around the site.
The Virginia Department of General Services is expected to store the statue in a state-run storage facility until a decision on its disposition is made. Northam’s administration said it would seek public input on the statue’s future.
The pedestal, tagged with graffiti from the 2020 protests, will remain in the traffic circle until a plan is developed to reimagine Monument Avenue. The governor’s office said Tuesday a time capsule placed near the monument will be removed and a new one put in its place with artifacts depicting the events that led to the statue’s removal.
Northam announced plans to remove the statue in June 2020 during the height of racial justice demonstrations. The move faced legal challenges to block its removal, but the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled last week the monument could be taken down.
A lawyer for the supporters filed a last-minute motion Tuesday with the Supreme Court asking for clarification of the ruling. Still, the statue was lifted off its pedestal.
The Lee statue was the only monument on the avenue that was state-owned. The rest of the Confederate memorials were owned by the city of Richmond, and they were taken down shortly after a law was enacted allowing localities to decide the fate of Confederate statues and monuments on public property.
With the statue of Lee gone, the only complete statue left on Monument Avenue is that of Richmond native Arthur Ashe, a tennis champion who also pushed for the advancement of civil rights.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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