A towering statue of Confederate General Robert E
RICHMOND, Va. — A towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, is set to come down on Wednesday, more than 130 years after it was built as a tribute to a Civil War hero who is now widely seen as a symbol of racial injustice, state officials said Monday.
The imposing, 21-foot (6.4-meter) tall bronze likeness of Lee on a horse sits atop a granite pedestal nearly twice that high in the grassy center of a traffic circle on Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to take down the statue in June 2020, 10 days after George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. The plans were stalled for more than a year by two lawsuits filed by residents opposed to its removal, but rulings last week by the Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way for the statue to be taken down.
In Monday’s news release, state officials said that preparations for the statue’s removal will began 6 p.m. Tuesday when crews will install protective fencing.
Once the statue is hoisted off the pedestal, it’s expected to be cut into two pieces for transport, although the final plan is subject to change, said Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of General Services.
After the statue is taken down Wednesday, crews on Thursday will remove plaques from the base of the monument and will replace a time capsule that is believed to be there.
In Richmond, a city that was the capital of the Confederacy for much of the Civil War, the Lee statue became the epicenter of last summer’s protest movement. The city has removed more than a dozen other pieces of Confederate statuary on city land since Floyd’s death.
As one of the largest and most recognizable Confederate statues in the country, the removal of the Lee statute is expected to draw large crowds.
The Lee statue was created by the internationally renowned French sculptor Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercie and is considered a “masterpiece,” according to its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, where it has been listed since 2007.
The Northam administration has said it would seek public input on the statue’s future. The 40-foot granite pedestal will be left behind for now amid efforts to rethink the design of Monument Avenue. Some racial justice advocates don’t want it removed, seeing the graffiti-covered pedestal as a symbol of the protest movement that erupted after Floyd’s killing.
Lawrence West, 38, member of BLM RVA, an activist group that’s been occupying the transformed space at the Lee monument, said he believes the decision to remove the statue was fueled by the work of protesters.
“I mean, it hadn’t come down before. They (Democrats in charge of state government) had all the opportunities in the world.”
West said he would like to see the statue site turned into a community space “to cultivate all types of connections between different people.”