Virginia will no longer be represented by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee or what he stood for, Gov. Ralph Northam said Monday morning after Lee's statue was removed from the U.S. Capitol overnight.
In a news release, Northam, 61, called it a “proud” moment and an “important step” for Virginia and the rest of 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.
Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a former vice presidential candidate, tweeted a video of the bronze statue being taken down on Monday morning, noting it was removed shortly after 4 a.m. local time.
“Early this morning, I witnessed the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from the U.S. Capitol,” Rep. Jennifer Wexton, of Virginia, tweeted. “It was a historic & overdue moment.”
The statue’s removal comes after a year of intense social upheaval and re-examination of the country's history of racism, sparked by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
As demonstrations against racial injustice swept the country — and the globe — so too did efforts to remove statues and other iconography around the U.S. that memorialized figures from the Confederacy.
The debate about historical iconography raised muddier questions, as statues of Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and other figures outside of the Civil War — who had their own, sometimes complicated histories of racism or slavery — were taken down or removed across the U.S.
(President Donald Trump, who has opposed the removal of Confederate memorials and other tributes, warned of prison time for those caught vandalizing federal monuments dedicated to veterans.)
In Virginia, a state that played a prominent role in the Confederacy and hosted its capital, Richmond, throughout the Civil War, many lawmakers and activists promptly sided with removing statues honoring that past.
In Richmond, a statue dedicated to the Confederate President Jefferson Davis was pulled down in June. The next month, a statue dedicated to Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson was taken down after the city’s mayor called for its “immediate removal,” NBC News reported.
In July, Virginia officials unanimously voted to take down the Lee statue in the U.S. Capitol, where states are each allowed to display two statues. (Virginia’s other statue is of President George Washington.)
“Confederate images do not represent who we are in Virginia, that’s why we voted unanimously to remove this statue,” Virginia state Sen. Louise Lucas, who led the unanimous vote over the summer, said in a statement Monday.
The governor’s office said it has set aside $500,000 to sculpt a statue of civil rights leader Barbara Rose Johns to replace Lee’s monument, which will be returned to Virginia’s ownership.
When she was 16 years old, Johns led a student walkout in 1951 at Robert Russa Moton High School, an all-Black school, protesting the unfair conditions compared to other local all-white schools.
The protest led to a lawsuit that was folded into the historic Brown v. Board of Education case in the Supreme Court, which made school segregation illegal.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the decision “welcome news” on Monday.
“The halls of Congress are the very heart of our Democracy, and the statues within the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans,” Pelosi, 80, said in a statement.
“The Congress will continue our work to rid the Capitol of homages to hate, as we fight to end the scourge of racism in our country,” she continued. “There is no room for celebrating the bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place of honor in our country.”
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