Protesters mill around a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, which was covered in graffiti during demonstrations against police brutality and racial inequality in 2020. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
One of the Virginia’s largest memorials to the Confederacy is coming down, according to Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration.
A senior administration official told the Associated Press that Northam will to announce plans Thursday to remove a state-owned, 60-foot tall statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
Officials have not yet given a timeline for the statue’s removal, but said they will have the statue put in storage while gathering input on a new location.
News of Northam’s plans, which the Mercury confirmed with his administration, came moments after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney proposed removing four city-owned Confederate monuments along the same boulevard — home to Virginia’s largest collection of monuments to the rebellion.
Stoney said in a statement that he and City Councilman Mike Jones, who has long called for the statues to be removed, will introduce an ordinance next month that takes advantage of newly passed legislation allowing localities to remove the monuments. The Richmond Times-Dispatch first reported Stoney’s plans.
The announcements by Northam and Stoney on Wednesday represent a massive political shift that followed six days of protests over police brutality and racism sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minnesota.
In Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, there had historically been limited political will to remove the statues and Northam has generally deferred to city officials when asked about the state-owned statue of Lee.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus called it a “step in the right direction in the continued fight to address institutional racism, systemic disparities and remaining vestiges of Jim Crow in our commonwealth.”
— VLBC (@VaBlackCaucus) June 4, 2020
Stoney had previously formed a commission to make suggestions on the monuments’ fate. The panel recommended removing the Jefferson Davis monument and adding context to the others.
“I appreciate the recommendations of the Monument Avenue Commission – those were the appropriate recommendations at the time. But times have changed, and removing these statues will allow the healing process to begin for so many Black Richmonders and Virginians,” Stoney said in a statement. “Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy – it is filled with diversity and love for all – and we need to demonstrate that.”
The decision that came after a deadly white supremacist rally around a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, which prompted some cities in other states to swiftly remove prominent memorials to the Confederacy.
Leaders in Charlottesville actively pushed the issue with state lawmakers, finding success this year after Democrats won control of both chambers in the General Assembly. City leaders there have said they also plan to reconsider the issue on July 1, when the new law restoring local authority goes into effect.
In a statement, Ana Edwards, chair of the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project for the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, an all-volunteer, grassroots organization that has pushed for the removal of the statues since 2007, said that “over the weekend, we watched people in Richmond do what those in authority simply could not bring themselves to do: They contextualized the Jim Crow statues on Monument Avenue, and in the most appropriate way possible.”
Edwards, a descendant of people sold out of Richmond, once one of the largest slave trading centers in the United States, in the 1840s said the statues ” finally wear on the outside the true, long bottled-up feelings that anti-racist Richmonders, black and white, have been forced to carry within them for the last century.
“Today, our city’s leadership, long afraid of taking this step, has at long last discovered the courage of the people and made the decision to remove from our civic landscape these monuments to white supremacy. History is not being erased – it is being made.”
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