A large statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, will come down on Wednesday, coming months after Gov. Ralph Northam ordered its removal.
The Civil War statue “will come down this week,” the Democrat governor said in a statement. “This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth.”
The statue, which was made in France, weighs more than 10 tons, stands about 21 feet tall, and has been on a 40-foot-tall pedestal for about 130 years.
Over the years, various groups have filed lawsuits with the aim of taking the Lee statue down. A contract signed in 1890 gave the state of Virginia control of the property and effectively prevented it from being removed.
During last year’s riots and protests that were sparked by George Floyd’s death, the monument became the center of protests in the city. Vandals and rioters last year often sprayed graffiti with protest slogans on the statue.
William Gregory, a descendant of the family that donated the Lee statue, has fought its removal, arguing that the original deeds from more than 100 years ago viewed the ground it stood on as “perpetually sacred,” according to reports.
In a GoFundMe statement, Gregory said that his “great-grandparents gave the land where the Monument now sits to the Commonwealth of Virginia, on the condition that the state agree to faithfully guard and affectionately protect the statue perpetually—conditions to which the Commonwealth agreed, and which were expressed clearly in the 1890 deed signed by Virginia’s then-governor.”
Northam, he said, issued the order to remove the Lee statue with no regard to “promises made to my great-grandparents on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia,” adding that’s why he filed a lawsuit to prevent its removal.
But last month, the state Supreme Court unanimously ruled that there is no evidence that Gregory has any ownership interest in the statue or the land on which it rests. Gregory, the court said, “has no property right related to the Lee monument,” meaning that it can be torn down. The documents that controlled the statue’s location were outdated and unenforceable, the court also ruled.
“The statue was installed in 1890, a generation after the Civil War, during the historical movement that sought to undo the results of the war by other means,” Virginia state officials said in a news release on Monday. Preparations for its removal will start Tuesday before it will be taken down on Wednesday, the officials added.
Other lawsuits seeking to block the removal were filed by nearby residents who said they had a property right to keep the statue in place and it should be left alone.
The Lee statue won’t be destroyed but will be kept in storage until a decision is made about what to do with it.
About 10 days after Floyd’s death and rampant widespread riots and protests, Northam announced plans to remove the monument.
Reuters contributed to this report.