Robert E. Lee monument to come down

The Robert E. Lee Monument is set to be removed Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. Photo by Megan Lee

Katharine DeRosa, News Editor

The towering Robert E. Lee monument is set to come down on Wednesday morning after over a year of legal entanglements.

Gov. Ralph Northam ordered for the statue to be removed on June 4, 2020, 10 days after the murder of George Floyd in Minneanpolis. However, Northam’s executive order was blocked by appeals of Monument Avenue residents.

The residents stated Northam’s order contradicted an 1890 deed and 1889 joint resolution from when the statue was erected. The 1889 joint resolution stated that the Virginia Governor must hold the Lee monument “perpetually sacred.” The 1890 deed bestowed ownership of the Lee Monument and the grounds surrounding it to the Commonwealth.

On Sept. 2, the Supreme Court of Virginia declared those appeals invalid, allowing the statue to come down.

“Governor Northam’s order to remove the Lee Monument did not violate the Constitution of Virginia, and that all of the Taylor Plaintiffs’ claims are without merit,” stated Justice S. Bernard Goodwyn in the court’s opinion.

The 40 foot pedestal of the Robert E. Lee Monument will remain until further notice. Citizens have painted and graffitied over it since summer 2020. Photo by Megan Lee

Virginia’s Department of General Services is in charge of removing the statue. It released a statement on Sept. 2 calling the removal “extremely complex.”

“Following the court’s decision, we are moving swiftly to remove the Robert E. Lee statue as directed by Governor Northam,” DGS stated.

The Robert E. Lee monument is the largest remaining monument in the United States, coming in at 12 tons, according to a release by the Joint Information Center, which is providing updates on the monument’s removal. The monument is also the only Confederate statue remaining on Monument Avenue.

The 40-foot pedestal, which has been graffitied over multiple times, will remain in place until a “final disposition” has been determined, according to the JIC. Richmonders placed memorials for Black people who died at the hands of police around the pedestal. The area’s fate will be determined by a “community-driven effort to reimagine Monument Avenue,” according to the JIC. 

DGS erected a fence around the public area surrounding the monument in anticipation of the statue coming down over eight months ago on Jan. 25. A warning was sent out by Virginia General Services early that morning.

During the removal of the monument, a time capsule from 1887 will be taken out and replaced by a new one with artifacts from the past 18 months. Artifacts will highlight racial justice protests and the COVID-19 pandemic. Northam released a list of the included artifacts, including an expired vial of COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine, photos from a Stop Asian Hate protest, a Black Lives Matter sticker and poetry from middle school students dealing with a pandemic.

A fence was erected around the monument by the Virginia Department of General Services in January in anticipation of the statue being removed. Photo by Megan Lee

The area around the statue became known as Marcus-David Peters Circle in the summer of 2020 as it was reclaimed by protesters during the Black Lives Matter protests throughout the city. Peters was a VCU alumnus who was shot and killed by a Richmond Police Officer on I-95 while experiencing a mental health crisis. He is the brother of Virginia gubernatorial candidate Princess Blanding. 

Princess Blanding is running as an independent candidate for Governor this fall. She announced her candidacy last December, according to Virginia Public Media. Blanding stated in a press release that people have pushed for Lee’s removal before protests in the summer of 2020. She stated the removal “has been a long time coming.”

“Calls for real action came when community members across all intersections united to take an unshaken, fearless stance to not only see that the monuments were immediately removed, but to demand that our legislators not just say that Black Lives Matter, but take concrete steps to show that Black Liberation Matters,” Blanding stated.

The Robert E. Lee monument has towered over Monument Avenue since 1890. Blanding stated that it reminds Black people that Monument Avenue is a space of gentrification.

“The Lee statue along with the rest of the fallen Confederate tributes to the Lost Cause have long lived on Monument Avenue doing their job to remind us of our shameful past,” Blanding stated

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