RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia Governor Ralph Northam made a historic announcement today — the iconic Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue will be removed.
In a press conference, Northam said he has asked the Department of General Services to remove the statue as soon as possible. The statue, imported from France in May 1890, towers over tree-lined Monument Avenue in the City of Richmond, standing at six stories tall and weighing 12 tons.
“It was wrong then and it’s wrong now,” Northam said today. “So, we’re taking it down.”
Northam said the statue will be taken down and stored as he collaborates with the community on what its future will be. The governor touched upon the history of the monument saying that Lee never wanted a monument, but Virginia put one up anyways.
“Today we are here, to be honest,” Northam said. “I strongly believe we have to confront where we have been in order to shape where we are going.”
Governor Northam was joined by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax. Rev. Robert Wright Lee IV, a descendant of General Robert E. Lee, joined the governor as well.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time…it’s time to put an end to the lost cause and fully embrace the righteous cause,” Stoney said.
Stoney continued saying, “We have two pandemics in this country, COVID-19 and racism. One is six months old, the other 400 years old.”
Mayor Stoney said events have made it painfully clear that both pandemics are lethal.
“We need to show that black and brown lives matter,” Stoney said. “That is our moral duty.”
On Wednesday, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said he and 9th District Councilman Michael Jones would introduce a resolution to remove all Confederate statues from Monument Avenue on July 1 when it becomes legal for the city to take down the statues.
In February, Virginia lawmakers passed legislation giving local government the authority to remove or relocate Confederate monuments.
The Virginia House voted 53-46 to pass its bill after the Senate voted along party lines to advance its own. The identical bills allow local governments to “remove, relocate, or alter any monument or memorial for war veterans located in its public space, regardless of when erected.”
Northam reiterated that the new law takes effect in four weeks.
“I know Richmond is going to do the right thing,” the governor said.
Northam also spoke to the uniqueness of the Lee statue — in both size and legal status.
“We put things on pedestals when we want people to look up. Think about the message that this sends,” Northam said.
The descendant of General Robert E. Lee, Rev. Robert W. Lee, said he supports the removal of the statue in Richmond, saying that Virginia has the chance to face its painful truth and address it.
“We have created an idol of white supremacy,” Rev. Robert W. Lee said.
Rev. Lee said everyone must do their best to address that and recognize that the statue is a symbol of oppression.
Northam said the first step in removing the monument is to talk to contractors and make plans in the coming weeks to remove the bronze from the statue.
“Do we put another monument on top of the pedestal,” Northam questioned, adding that discussions will continue on what to do with the pedestal.
Some of Virginia’s republican leaders have already spoken out against Northam’s decision to remove the Lee monument.
“The Governor’s decision to remove the Lee statue from Monument Avenue is not in the best interests of Virginia. Attempts to eradicate instead of contextualizing history invariably fail. And because of this Governor’s personal history, the motivations of this decision will always be suspect.”