Activists have long said the hulking statue of Civil War General Robert E Lee in Richmond glorifies the US South’s slave-owning past.
In a move that will cap decades of activism, crews are set to remove one of the United States’ largest remaining Confederate statues – a towering statue of Robert E Lee in Richmond, Virginia.
The 6.4-metre (21-foot) tall bronze statue Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army during the US Civil War, riding a horse will be hoisted off its 12-metre (40-foot) pedestal on Wednesday, 131 years after it was erected in the former capital of the Confederacy as a tribute to the Civil War leader.
Activists have called for the statue’s removal for years, saying it glorified the US South’s slave-holding past. However, officials had long resisted its takedown, as have some residents of Virginia who argued moving the monument would be akin to erasing history.
Still, 10 days after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed under the knee of a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer in May 2020, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and racism, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam announced plans to take down the statue.
Two subsequent lawsuits stalled the removal for more than a year, but rulings last week by the Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way for the statue to be taken down.
“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 city has removed more than a dozen other Confederate monuments on city land since Floyd’s death, but the Lee statue – one of the largest and most recognisable Confederate statues in the country – is expected to draw a crowd of both supporters and opponents.
A heavy police presence is also expected.
Plans for the future
The removal will begin early on Wednesday with a large crane hoisting the 11-tonne statue off its pedestal.
The sculpture is then 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 on Thursday will remove plaques from the base of the monument and will replace a time capsule that is believed to be inside.
Limited viewing opportunities from an area nearby will be available on a first‐come basis, state officials said. The removal also will be livestreamed through the governor’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The Lee statue was created by the internationally renowned French sculptor Marius Jean Antonin Mercie and is considered a masterpiece, according to its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, where it has been listed since 2007.
When the monument arrived in 1890 from France, an estimated 10,000 Virginians used wagons and rope to haul its pieces more than two kilometres to where it now stands.
The statue was the first of five Confederate monuments to be erected on Richmond’s Monument Avenue in the wake of the US Civil War, which ended in 1865. They were erected as Jim Crow racial segregation laws were on the rise in the South.
Northam administration has said the government would seek public input on the statue’s future.
The pedestal will be left behind, at least in the short term, amid efforts to rethink the design of Monument Avenue.
Some racial justice advocates have said the graffiti-covered pedestal should remain as a symbol of the protest movement that erupted after Floyd’s killing.