News and Commentary

Virginia Governor Announces Statue Of Robert E. Lee Will Be Removed
Equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia in 1905.
Library of Congress/Getty Images

Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) announced Thursday morning that he had ordered the removal of a famous Confederate statue that sits in the middle of the state capital of Richmond.

Northam provided a lengthy Twitter thread on his decision to remove the monument now, as cities across the country succumb to rioting and looting following the police-involved death of Minneapolis, Minnesota, resident George Floyd.

“Today, we’re here to be honest about our past and talk about our future,” Northam began, ignoring the fact that he has not been honest about whether he wore a KKK hood or dressed in blackface while in medical school. “I strongly believe that we have to confront where we’ve been in order to shape where we’re going.”

Northam explained that “symbols matter” as well as actual policies.

“Today, Virginia is home to more Confederate commemorations than any other state. That’s true because generations ago, Virginia made the decision not to celebrate unity, but to honor the cause of division,” Northam tweeted. “The statue of Robert E. Lee is the most prominent. Lee himself didn’t want a monument, but Virginia built one any way. Instead of choosing to heal the wounds of the American civil war, they chose to keep them on display.”

Northam then explained that those who built the statues created “lots of new laws” that made it impossible to remove the statues.

“But voting matters, elections matter, and laws can be changed,” Northam tweeted. “And this year, we changed them. This year, I proposed legislation to let cities and counties decide what to do with monuments in their communities—take them down, move them somewhere else, or add additional context.”

“But the Lee statue is unique, both in size and in legal status. The state owns it, unlike most other statues––that was part of the plan to keep it up forever. It sits on a 100-foot circle of land, a state-owned island, surrounded by the City of Richmond,” he continued. “And when it’s the biggest thing around, it sends a clear message: This is what we value the most. But that’s just not true anymore. In Virginia, we no longer preach a false version of history.”

Northam said he has directed Virginia’s Department of Government Services to remove the statue and put it into storage until the community decides what to do with it.

In addition to the Lee statue, four other Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue in Richmond look to be on the chopping block, though they are on city land and so it is up to Richmond leaders what to do with them. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who introduced Northam during his public comments regarding the Lee statue, said he would seek to remove the other four monuments, WTOP reported.

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