RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - An announcement to remove the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s prominent Monument Avenue was met with applause Thursday morning.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam was joined by numerous other state and city officials to announce the plan to remove the statue “as soon as possible.” That could happen in a matter of weeks.
“It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now,” Governor Northam said. “So, we’re taking it down.”
Northam says he’s directing the Department of General Service to put it into storage until he works with the community to determine its future.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney started the press conference by saying it’s time to heal.
“It’s time to put an end to the lost cause; Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy,” said Mayor Levar Stoney.
Governor Northam then took the podium talking about the history of the statue in this city. He read a quote from Robert E Lee that said: “I think it is wiser not to keep open the source of war but to follow the example of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife.”
Reverend Robert Wright Lee, a fourth-generation descendant of the Confederate general was also at the announcement. He had previously released a statement in support of the monument’s removal.
“We have created an idol of white supremacy," he said at the briefing. "The idols must be torn down.”
The historic decision to remove the statue comes amid turmoil across the nation and around the world over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving.
This also follows Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announcing that he would introduce an ordinance to remove the Confederate monuments on city land along Monument Avenue.
It’s been a back and forth debate for years. The city owns all of the Confederate monuments in Richmond except for the Lee monument, which the state owns. Now there are renewed efforts to get rid of them all.
Huge crowds gathered around the Lee monument Wednesday, with many of the protesters find a striking connection to Confederate statues adorning Monument Avenue.
"I say burn it down. Tear it down,” Austin Carroll said.
"Absolutely,” Xra Bennett said. Bennett and Raul Santos came out to the monument on the same day they graduated from high school, completing one milestone, hoping to see another. “Slavery is over. It’s over. It’s done. It’s time for a change,” they said.
"On the death of Heather Heyer, I submitted a request to take down the monuments but my colleagues on city council chose not to advance the papers,” Mike Jones said as a crowd erupted in anger.
Jones says he plans to propose yet another ordinance to get rid of all confederate monuments in Richmond. Stoney stood by his side in agreement.
"I got a 19-year-old son that I’m worried about. These racist monuments…they’ve got to come down,” Jones said.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus also released the following statement in part:
“The long-overdue removal of the Lee statue is an important step towards honestly and clearly addressing our Commonwealth’s and our country’s past. This removal was an answer to the countless calls from our Virginia communities, our members, and many others to take Virginia into a new, more just tomorrow. It coincides with similar actions, such as with the removal of the confederate statue at Appomattox in Alexandria and with plans to remove the Fredericksburg slave auction block this month. In addition, we must continue to focus on creating a better future by dismantling the systemic racism that still exists across our institutions.”
Not everyone thinks all of this is a good idea. Speaking on behalf of the Virginia Flaggers, Grayson Jennings issued the following statement:
“The Virginia Flaggers are disgusted, but certainly not surprised by Mayor Stoney’s announcement today that he would introduce an ordinance July 1 to destroy the beautiful memorials on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. Against the wishes of the overwhelming majority of citizens and to satisfy the demands of a small, violent group of agitators, he is asking the citizens of Richmond to spend millions to destroy national landmarks in the middle of a pandemic that has wrecked the city’s economy.
Failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and now city-wide vandalization and destruction of property will take a back seat to his agenda to rid the city of any history or heritage that he deems ‘offensive’.
Once called the ‘Grandest Avenue in the South’, Monument Avenue will become a burned-out, boarded-up extension of the rest of the city, adding huge losses in tourism to already precarious financial woes.
We can only hope that there are enough council members who are willing to put the needs of the citizens of the city over the demands of a few extremists and stop Stoney in his tracks.”
The Mayor of Crewe, Greg Eanes, also sent a letter to Northam and Stoney asking that the monuments be moved to his town to help increase Civil War tourism and revenue, which he says his town depends on. The following day, the mayor then pulled his request after hearing from his constituents.
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