Katrina Lee, Contributing Writer
A large crowd cheered along Monument Avenue on Wednesday as the Robert E. Lee statue was lifted from its pedestal and taken down.
Gov. Ralph Northam’s order for the statue to be removed was carried out at approximately 8:55 a.m. on Wednesday after more than a year of legal challenges. The statue was the largest remaining Confederate monument in the United States and the only remaining Confederate monument on Monument Avenue.
“I’m trying to hold back my tears,” said Richmond resident Kate Brown at the public viewing of the statue’s removal. “I wish my dad was here to see this.”
Brown said she grew up playing on the streets underneath the monument, and expressed that she felt overwhelmed by this “small step of progress” for the Black community in Richmond.
“We still have a long way to go,” Brown said.
Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to remove the statue on June 4, 2020. Some Monument Avenue residents attempted to block the order through lawsuits, citing an 1889 joint resolution and 1890 deed, which were meant to preserve the monument and land surrounding it.
The Supreme Court of Virginia came to a unanimous 7-0 decision last Thursday in favor of the statue’s removal, siding with Gov. Northam and historical testimony that the statue is now seen as a symbol of racial injustice.
Today’s unanimous ruling is about moving beyond the past. Step by step, Virginia is building a more inclusive future—where the Commonwealth glorifies the Confederacy no longer. pic.twitter.com/RjBkQ44BwC
— Governor Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) September 2, 2021
“Values change and public policy changes too. The Government of the Commonwealth is entitled to select the views that it supports and the values that it wants to express,” Justice S. Benard Goodwyn wrote in the court’s opinion.
The Virginia Department of General Services erected a fence around the statue’s base on Jan. 25 in anticipation of the removal — the date of which had not yet been determined.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia called for the removal of the fence on Feb. 15, citing that the fence was “denying people their First Amendment rights to gather in a public forum.”
“Today, the treasonous slaveowner and his high horse were taken down, and what’s left is the beauty created by the Black community in spite of immense obstacles,” stated ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Mary Bauer in a press release.
The grassy area surrounding the monument became a community gathering place, known as Marcus-David Peters Circle, during the summer 2020 racial justice protests. Peters was a VCU alumnus who was killed by police while experiencing a mental health crisis on Interstate 95.
“The colorful pedestal that remains on Monument Avenue is a reminder that we must continue to voice our dissent,” Bauer stated in the release.
At around 8:10 a.m. on Wednesday, police opened the blockades surrounding Marcus-David Peters Circle and allowed a crowd onto the streets to form around the monument. While waiting for the removal to begin, some onlookers waved Black Lives Matter flags and signs while chants were echoed by crowd members, saying “What do we want? Justice.”
Dillon Holdrige, a VCU mass communications student, observed the statue’s removal. Holdridge worked as a leasing agent across the street from the monument for the months leading up to its removal.
“I would look down and see the monument everyday,” Holdrige said. “This event will reestablish what our values are in the city of Richmond.”
After 45 minutes, the construction workers from the DGS successfully removed the statue from its pedestal. Construction workers at the top of the crane waved down to the crowd as the monument was lifted and brought down.
Race Capitol, a Richmond-based podcast that identifies itself as aiming to “uncover racial narratives in Richmond,” issued a statement Wednesday morning about the statue’s removal. The statement attributed the removal of the monument to the activists of Richmond as a result of the summer 2020 racial justice protests. The statement also called for the continuation of minority rights.
“It is the people who are the only reason that monument is coming down today,” Race Capitol stated. “When we take stock of our neighborhood, we see police surveillance increasing while our government’s neglect worsens the quality of our lives.”
VCU President Michael Rao made a statement about the removal of the Lee Monument, stating that VCU celebrates change that helps advance inclusivity and healing. The Lee Monument is located about 5 minutes from VCU’s Monroe Park Campus.
“VCU is a transformative, inclusive and diverse university and health system located in the heart of a dynamic, diverse city and commonwealth,” Rao stated.“This is an historic moment in the never-ending mission to promote inclusion and opportunity for all human beings.”
Saajan Sharma, a business student at VCU and a crowd member during the public viewing, stated that this had been a “long time coming.”
“I hope this is a start to the end to a form of evil that has been around for too long,” Sharma said.
Executive Editor Iman Mekonen contributed to this report.