It stood as a symbol of the Confederacy in its one-time capital for more than a century. Now, the Robert E. Lee monument has been officially removed from its prominent public perch in Richmond, Virginia.
“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 Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in a statement. “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.”
Confederate General Robert E. Lee was a major military leader in Virginia during the Civil War. Despite the Union victory that would lead to the abolition of slavery in the United States, symbols of the Confederacy proliferated. The Lee statue was erected in 1890, decades after the deadly war.
The governor’s office said his Administration proposed removing the Lee monument more than a year ago. It followed protests that erupted in Richmond and nationwide following the police killing of George Floyd. Moreover, civil rights groups and other critics had long decried the presence of Confederate statues in public spaces.
Court challenges prevented action on the Lee statue until last week, when the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously agreed that the removal could move forward. The 12 ton statue was removed Wednesday in a process that took approximately one hour.
Officials said the statue will be placed in secure storage at a state facility until a permanent, “appropriate” location is chosen for its display. The 40-foot granite pedestal—now covered with graffiti—will remain for the time being. The pedestal’s final disposition will be determined following a community-driven effort to reimagine Monument Avenue, including the state-owned property surrounding the monument and the pedestal.
A. Donald McEachin (D-VA), a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who represents Virginia, tweeted: “This is a long-overdue moment for Virginia. Our Commonwealth’s monuments and memorials should represent the values & identity of America.” He added, “Let us use this opportunity to recognize American heroes deserving of our veneration.”
In August, McEachin and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Defense urging that Fort Lee, a U.S. Army military base in Central Virginia, be renamed.
“You have been tasked with the critical and long-overdue responsibility of beginning the process of renaming military installations honoring individuals who took up arms against the United States to preserve the institution of slavery. This change is long overdue,” the members wrote. “The Armed Forces of the United States exemplify the values, identity, and diversity of our nation, and it is imperative that the names of military installations, ships, buildings, and other property reflect that as well.”
The Congressmen, who established a commission to study the matter, said the recommendation is that the base be rededicated as Fort Gregg, to honor Lt. General Arthur J. Gregg. He was a 35-year veteran of the Army, a celebrated military logistician, and a barrier-breaking member of the armed forces. He worked to combat racial and institutional barriers for minority servicemembers. Upon his retirement in 1981 as the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, he was the highest-ranking minority general, and the second-highest ranking Black servicemember to date.
“By establishing Fort Gregg, the Army would not only honor a pioneer in military leadership and logistics,” the letter notes, but also “honor the legacy” of all Black servicemembers.