Robert E. Lee statue removed from Virginia Capitol overnight

The Capitol as it appeared at the end of the Civil War before the front steps and legislative wings were added. (Library of Congress)

House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, oversaw the removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from the state Capitol overnight Thursday along with busts and artifacts representing eight men who served in the Confederacy.

Workers remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from the Virginia Capitol overnight Thursday. (Office of the Speaker)

“Virginia has a story to tell that extends far beyond glorifying the Confederacy and its participants,” Filler-Corn said in a statement announcing her decision Friday morning. “The Confederacy’s primary objective in the Civil War was to preserve an ideology that maintained the enslavement of human beings. Now is the time to provide context to our Capitol to truly tell the Commonwealth’s whole history.”

While recent unrest has renewed debate over Confederate symbols and led to the removal of Confederate statues around Richmond and the state, memorials within the Capitol and on its square had gone largely undiscussed.

The statuary removed Thursday night was located in the Old House Chamber, a room where delegates met before the building was expanded, which is now largely used by tour groups and delegates seeking a private corner to make phone calls.

Filler-Corn’s office said the state constitution and the rules of the House gave her the authority to make changes to the space, including by removing artifacts.

She announced that she formed a “Speaker’s Advisory Group on State Capitol Artifacts” to advise her on what to do with the removed memorials and possible further actions. She appointed Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, to oversee the group.

“The artifacts at the Capitol are a painful reminder of the deep-rooted wounds of slavery and 401 years of oppression,” McQuinn said in a statement. “These Confederate artifacts are constant reminders of individuals who had no intentions of guaranteeing justice, equality and equity for all. I am proud of Speaker Filler-Corn for taking this action to not only remove these hateful symbols, but also create a process to make sure our State Capitol reflects our ideals.”

In a statement, Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, criticized the statue’s removal:

“The Speaker’s statement reaffirming her commitment to telling the whole history of the Commonwealth is perplexing, given the fact that that the Lee statute in the old House chamber literally marks the spot where Lee accepted his general’s commission, setting off some of the most historic and tragic events in our nation’s history. Unlike the Lee monument on Monument Avenue, this statue is a historical marker. Another historical reality is that the Capitol building itself served as the Confederate Capitol, a fact that should no doubt force the Speaker’s new Advisory Group to recommend that it be razed to the ground.”