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The statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr.
The statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Mobilus In Mobili/Flickr.

Viriginia Supreme Court Rules for Removal of Robert E. Lee Monument

The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that a statue of General Robert E. Lee that has stood in the state capital for more than a hundred years can be taken down. The ruling responded to two separate lawsuits seeking to protect the twenty-one-foot-high bronze sculpture, which looms over Richmond’s Monument Avenue from atop a forty-foot-high pedestal set inside a traffic circle and depicts the Confederate army leader astride a horse and clad in full military regalia.

Following the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer and the attendant global rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, the statue, seen by many as symbolizing institutionalized racial injustice, became a flashpoint. Protesters quickly covered its base with graffiti and frequently used it as a support for banners decrying the killing specifically and racism in general, with the state temporarily encircling the monument in chain-link fence in an effort to keep demonstrators off the traffic circle. Ten days after Floyd’s death, Virginia governor Ralph Northam pledged to have the twelve-ton statue removed.

A group of residents owning property near the statue sued to keep the monument in place, as did a descendant of signatories of an 1890 deed transferring to the state the statue, its base, and the land the monument occupies. The Richmond Circuit Court ruled that the statue could come down; in two separate opinions issued Thursday, the Supreme Court upheld that ruling on the basis that the statue and property belong to the state and that the state’s wishes regarding the monument must thus prevail.

Northam called the ruling a “tremendous win” for the state’s citizens. “Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value. When we honor leaders who fought to preserve a system that enslaved human beings, we are honoring a lost cause that has burdened Virginia for too many years,” he said in a statement.

“Today it is clear—the largest Confederate monument in the South is coming down.”

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