Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Virginia Supreme Court Rules the State Can Remove Robert E. Lee Statue

The Robert E. Lee Statue in Richmond, which has been a source of controversy over its symbolism, will be removed following the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday. (WYDaily/Nancy Sheppard)

STATEWIDE — The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled Thursday, Sept. 2 that the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee can be taken down from the capital city.

The high court is allowing the state to begin the removal process of the 21-foot bronze statue of Lee sitting on his horse, which sits on a 40-foot base.

The Confederate monument has been a source of controversy, seen as a symbol of racial injustice and having many calling for its removal.

Gov. Ralph Northam announced his plans for the statue’s removal back in June 2020 amid the nationwide protests over racial injustice and police brutality sparked by George Floyd’s death.

However, Northam’s decision was met with separate lawsuits challenging the governor’s order and arguing that removal of the statue violates an 1890 deed, in which Virginia agreed to protect the statue, pedestal and land they sit on upon their transfer to the state.

The state’s high court ruled in Northam’s favor in Oct. 2020 and the statue’s removal has been pending until Thursday, when the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the Commonwealth’s favor.

“Today’s ruling is a tremendous win for the people of Virginia,” Northam said in a statement Thursday. “Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value. When we honor leaders who fought to preserve a system that enslaved human beings, we are honoring a lost cause that has burdened Virginia for too many years.”

Northam cited Attorney General Mark Herring’s work in the steps toward the removal, saying that the ruling will help the state and the City of Richmond move toward a “more inclusive, just future.”

“Today it is clear — the largest Confederate monument in the South is coming down,” Northam said.

A statement from Attorney General Mark Herring’s office said that removing the statue is a step toward making Virginia a more inclusive and fair place.

“Today is an historic day in Virginia,” Herring said. “Today, we turn the page to a new chapter in our Commonwealth’s history – one of growth, openness, healing, and hope.”

The Department of General Services, which has been directed by Northam in executing the plan for the statue’s removal, said in a statement Thursday that it is “moving swiftly” to remove the statue, calling it “an extremely complex removal.”

The Department said that a date for the statue’s removal, along with how the public will be able to view it, will be announced at a later time.

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