RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – A towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., Is expected to fall on Wednesday, more than 130 years after it was built in homage to a Civil War hero who is now widely regarded as a symbol of racial injustice, state officials said on Monday.
“Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate uprising is going to fall this week,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a press release Monday. “This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth. “
The imposing 6.4-meter-tall bronze statue of Lee on a horse sits atop a granite pedestal almost twice as high in the grassy center of a roundabout on Richmond’s famous Monument Avenue.
Governor Ralph Northam announced plans to demolish the statue in June 2020, 10 days after George Floyd died below the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. The plans were stalled for more than a year by two lawsuits brought by residents opposed to its removal, but last week’s Virginia Supreme Court rulings paved the way for the statue’s removal.
In Monday’s press release, state officials said preparations for the statue’s removal will begin at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, when teams install protective fences.
Once the statue is hoisted from the pedestal, it should be cut in half for transportation, although the final plan is subject to change, said Dena Potter, spokesperson for the state’s General Service Department.
After the statue is dismantled on Wednesday, teams will remove the plaques from the monument’s base on Thursday and replace a time capsule that is believed to be there.
In Richmond, a city that was the capital of Confederation for much of the Civil War, the statue of Lee became the epicenter of last summer’s protest movement. The town has removed more than a dozen other pieces of Confederate statuary from the town’s lands since Floyd’s death.
As one of the largest and most recognizable Confederate statues in the country, the removal of Lee’s Law is expected to draw large crowds.
Limited viewing opportunities will be available on a first come, first served basis, state officials said in Monday’s press release. The removal will also be streamed live via the governor’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, both of which have the handle @governorVA.
The statue of Lee was created by the internationally renowned French sculptor Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercie and is considered a “masterpiece”, according to its nomination in the National Register of Historic Places, where it has been listed since 2007.
When the statue arrived from France in 1890, around 10,000 Virginians used wagons to transport its pieces over a mile to where it now stands. White residents celebrated the statue, but many black residents have long regarded it as a monument glorifying slavery.
The Northam administration said it would seek public input on the statue’s future. The 40-foot granite pedestal will be scrapped for now amid efforts to redesign Monument Avenue. Some racial justice advocates don’t want it removed, seeing the graffiti-covered pedestal as a symbol of the protest movement that erupted after Floyd’s murder.
Lawrence West, 38, a member of BLM RVA, an activist group that occupies the transformed space of the Lee Monument, said he believed the decision to remove the statue was fueled by the work of the protesters.
“I mean, it hadn’t happened before. They (the Democrats in charge of state government) had every opportunity in the world.
West said he would like to see the statue site transformed into a community space “to cultivate all types of connections between different people.”