Katrina Lee, Contributing Writer
Masonry workers dug for 12 hours on Thursday under the former site of the Robert E. Lee monument in an attempt to recover a 1887 time capsule that was never found.
Historians believed this time capsule was placed in the pedestal on Oct. 27, 1887, and it contained around 60 items, many related to the Confederacy, according to a press release from Gov. Ralph Northam.
“After a couple of long hard days, it’s clear the time capsule won’t be found ― and Virginia is done with lost causes,” Grant Neely, chief communications officer for Gov. Ralph Northam, said in a statement. “The search for this moldy Confederate box is over. We’re moving on.”
Northam announced a new time capsule would be created and placed in the pedestal of the monument. This new time capsule contains 36 artifacts, including a Black Lives Matter sticker and an expired vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, which were chosen by a committee of historians and members of Northam’s cabinet.
Despite not finding the 1887 time capsule, the new one was placed in the northeast cornerstone of the statue’s base on Saturday morning, according to a tweet from the Joint Information Center, @VAMonument2021, which has been providing updates.
“The past 18 months have seen historic change, from the pandemic to protests for racial justice that led to the removal of these monuments to a lost cause,” Northam said in a statement. “It is fitting that we replace the old time capsule with a new one that tells that story.”
Memorials dedicated to victims of police brutality originally surrounded the base of the monument; they were removed to prepare for the statue’s removal, according to Dena Potter, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of General Services.
“They were cataloged and will be preserved until a decision is made about what will happen to them,” Potter stated in an email.
Northam’s order for the Lee statue to be removed was carried out on the morning of Sept. 8 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.”
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 meant to preserve the monument and land surrounding it.
The Supreme Court of Virginia came to a unanimous 7-0 decision on Sept. 2 in favor of the statue’s removal, siding with Northam and historical testimony that the statue is now seen as a symbol of racial injustice.
“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 DGS 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 the fence as “denying people their First Amendment rights to gather in a public forum.”
The grassy area surrounding the monument became a community gathering place, known as Marcus-David Peters Circle, during the racial justice protests of summer 2020. Peters was a VCU alumnus who was killed by police while experiencing a mental health crisis on Interstate 95.
“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 future of the pedestal and area surrounding it will be determined by the City of Richmond and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts by a “community-driven effort to reimagine Monument Avenue,” according to Northam’s press release.
“The colorful pedestal that remains on Monument Avenue is a reminder that we must continue to voice our dissent,” Bauer stated in the release.
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 monument is located about five 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 VCU business student 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.