Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Thursday announced the removal of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Richmond “as soon as possible,” saying it will be placed in storage.
“Today, we’re here to be honest about our past, and talk about our future,” Northam said in a news briefing, adding, “We have to confront where we’ve been in order to shape where we’re going.”
Northam said that after the six-story statue goes into storage, there will be a discussion about where it should go next.
“In Virginia, for more than 400 years, we have set high ideals about freedom and equality,” he said, “but we have fallen short of many of them.”
Northam made the decision following days of angry protests, some of them violent, in Richmond and across the nation over the death of George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis. Former officer Derek Chauvin on Wednesday was charged with second-degree murder in his death.
“When a young child looks up and sees something that big and prominent, she knows it must be important. When it’s the biggest thing around, it sends a clear message: This is what we value the most,” Northam said. “That’s not true anymore.”
Members of The Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization of descendants of Confederate soldiers, said the statue and other Civil War-era monuments in the city should be preserved.
“The Virginia Division is defending your American History and Heritage throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Fighting the narrow minded that are attacking our heritage,” the group says on their website. “This is a costly endeavor.”
A spokesperson for the Virginia Flaggers, a group that stands against the desecration of Confederate monuments, said in a statement: “The Virginia Flaggers are disgusted, but certainly not surprised by Mayor Stoney’s announcement today that he would introduce an ordinance July 1 to destroy the beautiful memorials on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of citizens and to satisfy the demands of a small, violent group of agitators, he is asking the citizens of Richmond to spend millions to destroy national landmarks in the middle of a pandemic that has wrecked the city’s economy.”
The spokesperson added that Monument Avenue will turn into a “burned out” and “boarded up” extension of Richmond.
President Donald Trump has previously criticized the move to remove Confederate statues and monuments, writing that it was discouraging to see the “history and culture” of the country being “ripped apart.”
Lee was the general of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, earning a reputation as a great military mind and tactician.