Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday plans to remove one of the country's most prominent monuments to the Confederacy, a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee on Richmond's Monument Avenue. The monument has been a rallying site for Black Lives Matter protests since the death of George Floyd, with nearby Confederate statues being tagged with messages such as "Stop White Supremacy," as per WTOP.
"In Virginia, we no longer practice a false version of history," Northam said during his announcement, ordering that the statue be removed "as soon as possible." He then quoted Lee himself, saying, "I think it wise not to keep open the sores of war."
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney added during the announcement, "Ladies and gentlemen, it's time. It's time to put an end to the Lost Cause and fully embrace the righteous cause." He added that Richmond is "no longer the capital of the Confederacy," which makes it more than appropriate timing to remove the statue.
Rev. Robert W. Lee IV, the Confederate general's great-great-grandson, added during the announcement that because of the protests surrounding the death of Floyd in police custody, "the world is watching." He said, "If today is not the right time, when will it be the right time?"
When news of the impending announcement was revealed Wednesday, Del. Jay Jones, a black lawmaker from Norfolk, told the Associated Press. "That is a symbol for so many people, black and otherwise, of a time gone by of hate and oppression and being made to feel less than." Jones added he was "overcome" by emotion when he learned the statue was to be removed.
Also Wednesday, Stoney announced plans to seek the removal of the four other Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, including statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Removal of these statues falls under the purview of the city, as they sit on city land, as opposed to the Lee statue, which sits on state land. Stoney vowed to introduce an ordinance July 1 to have the statues removed.
"I appreciate the recommendations of the Monument Avenue Commission – those were the appropriate recommendations at the time," Stoney said in a statement as per the AP, referencing the panel that studied the removal of these monuments and recommended the removal of the Davis statue. "But times have changed, and removing these statues will allow the healing process to begin for so many Black Richmonders and Virginians. Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy – it is filled with diversity and love for all – and we need to demonstrate that."