“It’s time to acknowledge the reality of institutional racism, even if you can’t see it,” Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said last week.
“Public policies have kept this reality in place for a long time. But symbols matter too, and Virginia has never been willing to deal with symbols—until now.”
An infamous bronze monument in Richmond, Virginia memorializing Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate Army in the Civil War, will be removed, the state’s governor announced this week. It’s the latest in a string of controversial monuments to fall amid the protests that have erupted nationwide in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota police officer.
“That statue has been there for a long time,” said Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in a press conference this morning. “It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now. So we’re taking it down.”
Virginia has more Confederate monuments than any other state, with Richmond, the capital of the former Confederacy, being home to five prominent examples alone. Statues memorializing Confederate leaders such as J. E. B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson—all of which line the city’s Monument Avenue—have been targeted by those seeking social justice reform.
The Lee sculpture has been vandalized numerous times, including last weekend, as crowds tried to remove it by force. Protestors also covered the statue with graffiti and projected onto it an image of Floyd with the words “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE.”
Last year, Virginia’s General Assembly overturned a longstanding state law that prevented municipalities from removing monuments. Cities across the state, including Richmond, have already announced plans to remove their own Confederate memorials when the new law goes into effect July 1.
Authorities have removed other symbols since protests erupted two weeks ago, including a massive obelisk in Birmingham, Alabama, and a bronze likeness of Admiral Raphael Semmes that had stood in a middle of a downtown street near the Mobile, Alabama, waterfront for 120 years. In Fredericksburg, Virginia, a 176-year-old slave auction block was removed from the city’s downtown, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy removed its statue from Old Town, Alexandria.