Robert E. Lee Statue in Richmond to be Removed Wednesday Following Virginia Supreme Court Ruling

The 12-ton effigy on Monument Avenue is the largest remaining Confederate statue in the U.S.

The afternoon sun illuminates the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave in Richmond, Va
Photo: Steve Helber/AP/Shutterstock

The Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond will be removed on Wednesday, Sept. 8, less than a week after Virginia's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state can take down its own statue of the Confederate general.

Officials announced on Facebook Monday that preparation for the removal including road closures and fences will begin on Tuesday night and last until the statue, installed in 1890, is gone.

The monument is "the largest Confederate statue remaining in the United States," per the statement. The 12-ton statue sits atop a 40-foot granite pedestal, altogether six stories high.

The statue will be sent to "secure storage at a state-owned facility" until officials make a decision on its final disposition.

On Thursday, plaques from the base of the monument will be removed. Officials plan to replace a time capsule "that is believed to be located at the site," per the VaMonument2021 Facebook page.

The 40-foot granite pedestal that held the Confederate general will remain up until they find a disposition place that will be "determined following a community-driven effort to reimagine Monument Avenue, including the state-owned property surrounding the monument and the pedestal."

Beginning at 8 a.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, a public viewing area will be set up at Monument Avenue at Stuart Circle. The removal of the statue can also be streamed on Facebook or Virginia Gov. Ralph S. Northam's Twitter account.

"Virginia's largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will come down this week," the 61-year-old governor said in the VaMonument2021 press release. "This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth."

Mayor Levar Stoney added, "We are taking an important step this week to embrace the righteous cause and put the 'Lost Cause' behind us. Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy. We are a diverse, open, and welcoming city, and our symbols need to reflect this reality."

Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia
Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia. RYAN M. KELLY/AFP via Getty Images

Last Thursday, Virginia state justices came to a 7-0 decision that determined that the statue more than a century later "communicates principles that many believe to be inconsistent with the values the Commonwealth currently wishes to express," NBC News reported.

Northam issued an order to remove the statue in June 2020, 10 days after the killing of unarmed Black man George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Some Virginians attempted to block that order in lawsuits citing 1887 and 1890 deeds, in which the state promised to maintain the statue forever.

In their Thursday ruling, the judges wrote that those deeds are "unenforceable" and "unreasonable because their effect is to compel government speech, by forcing the Commonwealth to express, in perpetuity, a message with which it now disagrees," per the outlet.

In response to the ruling, Northam issued a statement saying that the removal of the statue would allow for "a more inclusive future — where the Commonwealth glorifies the Confederacy no longer."

In a press release following the unanimous ruling, the governor's office said that the state had already been planning for the statue's removal for months, but noted it would require several days of work.

"Today's ruling allows the Department of General Services to begin executing a plan that prioritizes public safety," the statement read. "This process is complicated by several logistical and security concerns, including street closures and the equipment required to ensure the safe removal of the 12-ton statue. Ultimately removal of the statue will be a multi-day process; while crews are moving quickly, no action on the statue is expected this week."

In December 2020, the statue of Lee was taken down at the U.S. Capitol, where it had served as a representation of the state of Virginia.

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In a news release at the time, Northam called the removal of the Capitol statue of Lee an "important step" for Virginia and the United States.

"The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia's racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion," the governor said.

Across the country, statues and other iconography memorializing figures from the Confederacy were met with fierce backlash in 2020, amid demonstrations against racial injustice following the killings of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others.

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