Statue of Confederate Robert E. Lee coming down in Virginia

AP
Crews are set to remove one of the United States' largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia.
AP

Crews are set to remove one of the United States' largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia.

The 6.4-meter bronze likeness of Lee on a horse was to be hoisted off its 12-meter pedestal yesterday, 131 years after it was erected in the former capital of the Confederacy as a tribute to the Civil War leader.

Many consider the statue's place of honor on Monument Avenue to be an offensive glorification of the South's slave-holding past. Others argued that taking it down would amount to erasing history. Public officials resisted calls to remove it until the death of George Floyd under a police officer's knee.

Democratic Governor Ralph Northam announced plans for its removal in June 2020, 10 days after Floyd's death in Minneapolis sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. The plans then stalled until the Supreme Court of Virginia last week ruled against two lawsuits opposing its removal.

"This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth," Northam said in a news release announcing final plans for the removal.

The sculpture is expected to be cut into two pieces for transport, although the final plan is subject to change, said Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of General Services.

After the statue is taken down, crews will today remove plaques from the base of the monument and will replace a time capsule that is believed to be inside.

In Richmond, a city that was the capital of the Confederacy for most of the Civil War, the Lee statue became the epicenter of last summer's protest movement. The city has removed more than a dozen other pieces of Confederate statuary on city land since Floyd's death.

Given that the statue is one of the largest and most recognizable Confederate monuments in the country, its removal is expected to draw a crowd and a heavy law enforcement presence.

The statue was created by internationally renowned French sculptor Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercie and is considered a masterpiece, according to its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places.

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