Virginia has removed the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the Capitol. The Capitol allows each state to display two statues of important figures in the national building and the Robert Lee statue had represented the state along with George Washington’s statue since 1909.
Laborers removed the statue from the National Statuary Hall on Monday, December 21. The step is a continuation of the recent string of removals of Confederate statues nationwide amid the racial justice movement.
“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Governor Northam. “The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion,” said Governor Ralph Northam when announcing the decision.
The statue is expected to be replaced by a statue honoring civil rights activist Barbara Johns. Barbara Johns was a pioneering leader in the American civil rights movement. On April 23, 1951, at the age of 16, Powell led a student strike for equal education at R.R. Moton High School in Farmville, Prince Edward County, Virginia not far from McLean Virginia.
“I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns’ contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did,” Northam added.
The Virginia General Assembly still has to formally approve Johns’ statue before it can be officially commissioned, which will reportedly take place after the legislature resumes on Jan. 13.
Governor Northam had requested the removal of the statue in early 2020. Northam signed legislation establishing the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol charged with studying the removal and replacement of the Robert E. Lee statue. The eight-member commission, chaired by State Senator Louise Lucas, voted unanimously on July 24, 2020 to recommend removal of the statue.
Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, Virginia will accept ownership of the statue at the request of the commission.
While a number of statues of other Confederate leaders have already been removed in Virginia, a statue of Lee in Richmond, Virginia, has been a particular source of contention. A group of Virginians are appealing an October court ruling that allowed the statue to be removed. The faculty of Virginia’s Washington and Lee University also voted to remove Lee from the university’s name in June, which is still in the process of being completed.