(Trends Wide) — Virginia removed an imposing statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Wednesday, the last remaining Confederate statue on Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue.
A pair of Virginia Supreme Court rulings cleared the way to remove the statue last week after an intense national debate over the purpose and place of the 12-ton statue on this tree-lined street more than 1.5 km in length. length in which it was the capital of the Confederacy.
The statue, like other symbols of Confederacy in the Commonwealth and across the country, including busts of Confederate figures in the Virginia State House, was removed after George Floyd’s assassination sparked national recognition of police brutality and racism.
Lawrence West, founder of BLM RVA, told Trends Wide Tuesday that it is “very satisfying and gratifying” that the statue is being removed. His group has occupied the space surrounding the Lee memorial – unofficially nicknamed by protesters the Marcus-David Peters Circle in honor of a black professor who was killed by police while experiencing a “mental health crisis” – since June. 2020 amid protests over Floyd’s death.
“Robert E. Lee standing here on Monument Avenue is very symbolic for the Confederate mentality, you know the levels of oppression that people feel on a day-to-day basis,” West said. “With the removal of the monument, those kinds of ideals are being destroyed as well. It brings closure to the idea that ‘it’s okay to be racist.’
Judicial battle over the removal of the statue
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced plans to remove Lee’s statue in June 2020, but ran into legal challenges.
A group of Richmond residents sued, arguing that an 1890 deed and a joint 1889 General Assembly resolution prohibited the governor from ordering the removal of a state-owned state monument. The plaintiffs also claimed property rights to enforce the deeds, saying they required Virginia to keep Lee’s statue in its place in perpetuity.
In its ruling, the Virginia Supreme Court disagreed, saying that all of the plaintiffs’ claims were unfounded and dissolved the injunctions imposed by the lower court.
Northam hailed the sentences as a “tremendous victory” in a statement last week, saying that removing the statue would help move the state and Richmond “toward a more inclusive and just future.”
Most recent reactions
Patrick McSweeney, an attorney for the Monument Avenue residents in one of the lawsuits, told Trends Wide on Tuesday that he had informed the Virginia Supreme Court that he will request a new hearing.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, replied Tuesday that the state’s high court “clearly stated that the previous injunction pending appeal was dissolved ‘immediately.”
And while some Monument Avenue residents tried to block its removal, more than 50 residents living on or near the street supported the statue’s removal.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney last summer invoked his emergency powers to remove several Confederate monuments honoring General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, General JEB Stuart and others. And the protesters had toppled a monument to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate states during the Civil War.
What will happen to the statue?
The statue will be kept in a secure location at a state facility until a decision is made on its disposal, authorities said in a press release Monday. The 40-foot granite pedestal on which Lee’s statue sits will remain in place during the community-driven “reimagining” of Monument Avenue, according to authorities.
A time capsule at the monument will also be replaced by a new capsule made by Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale that will include 39 artifacts. A photo taken of a black dancer at the monument last summer, a covid-19 vaccination card and a Kente fabric are some of the items that will be included.
“The past 18 months have witnessed a historic change, from the pandemic to the racial justice protests that led to the removal of these monuments in favor of a forgotten cause,” Northam said in a statement Tuesday. “It is appropriate that we replace the old time capsule with a new one that tells that story.”
Fight against oppression at the local level
The statue and its surroundings have recently been an intersection of protests, dancing, activism and even a space for reflection where a hologram of Floyd lit up the statue last summer.
The pedestal, West told Trends Wide, should go to a museum to be preserved as an artifact from a historic moment.
“This is ground zero and this expression has to be defended,” he said, adding that there are more things to do after the monument is removed, including curbing gun violence, an issue that Stoney declared a health crisis. public in May.
“It is not just symbols of oppression and ideals of oppression in general that we have to fight. We also have to fight things locally,” West noted.
Trends Wide’s Deanna Hackney and Veronica Stracqualursi contributed to this report.