The 21-foot-tall (6.4-meter) bronze likeness of Lee on a horse will be hoisted off its 40-foot (12- meter) pedestal Wednesday, 131 years after it was erected in the former capital of the Confederacy as a tribute to the Civil War leader.
While many saw the statue as an offensive glorification of the South’s slave-holding past, public officials had long resisted its removal, along with residents of Virginia who argued moving the monument would be akin to erasing history.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to take down the statue in June 2020, 10 days after George Floyd died under 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 filed by residents opposed to its removal, 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," Gov. Ralph Northam said in a news release announcing final plans for the removal.
The work is slated to begin early Wednesday. A large crane will be used to hoist the 12-ton (11 metric-ton) statue off its pedestal. The sculpture is 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.
In Richmond, a city that was the capital of the Confederacy for most of the Civil War, the Lee statue became the epicenter of last summer’s protest movement. The city has removed more than a dozen other pieces of Confederate statuary on city land since Floyd’s death.
Given that the statue is one of the largest and most recognizable Confederate monuments in the country, its removal is expected to draw a crowd and a heavy law enforcement presence.
Limited viewing opportunities from an area nearby will be available on a first‐come, first‐served 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 a mile to where it now stands. The statue was the first of five Confederate monuments to be erected on Richmond’s Monument Avenue, at a time when the Civil War and Reconstruction were over, but Jim Crow racial segregation laws were on the rise.
The Northam administration has said it would seek public input on the statue’s future. The pedestal will be left behind for now amid efforts to rethink the design of 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 killing.
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