The largest Confederate monument display in the United States was removed from public view on Wednesday, over a year after Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) called for its removal following the death of George Floyd.
The statue, a commemoration to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, was unveiled in the 1890s in a field outside Richmond, Virginia. The 21-foot statue features Lee on horseback and sat atop a 40-foot granite base. The whole monument was six stories tall.
Governor Ralph Northan (D-VA) called for its removal last year, saying that we could “no longer honor a system that was based on the buying and selling of enslaved people,” according to Axios.
“Yes, that statue has been there for a long time,” he added. “But it was wrong then, and it is wrong now. So we’re taking it down. I believe in a Virginia that studies its past in an honest way. I believe that when we learn more, we can do more. And I believe that when we learn more — when we take that honest look at our past — we must do more than just talk about the future.”
The governor’s move prompted a legal challenge that remained unresolved for more than a year. However, last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled that the commonwealth could, in fact, remove the statue and that the government was not obligated to keep it up, even if the deed for the monument called for it to be kept up for display in perpetuity.
“Those restrictive covenants are unenforceable as contrary to public policy and for being unreasonable because their effect is to compel … the Commonwealth to express, in perpetuity, a message with which it now disagrees,” the justices wrote in a unanimous ruling, notes The Associated Press.
Both Northam and his wife were on the ground when the statue was removed Wednesday morning.
156 years after the end of the civil war, Virginia has come one step closer to being a more inclusive and welcoming Commonwealth. pic.twitter.com/7wvRfM35mx
— Pamela Northam (@FirstLadyVA) September 8, 2021
“After 133 years, the statue of Robert E. Lee has finally come down—the last Confederate statue on Monument Avenue, and the largest in the South,” said the governor. “The public monuments reflect the story we choose to tell about who we are as a people. 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.”
According to the governor’s office, the statue will now be placed in “secure storage” until the government can figure out what to do with it. The pedestal will remain in place for now, and soon, a “community-driven effort to reimagine Monument Avenue, including the state-owned property surrounding the monument and the pedestal” will take place.