Virginia removes 12-ton Robert E. Lee statue from Richmond's Monument Avenue

The governor ordered the removal of the state-owned statue in June 2020.

September 8, 2021, 9:21 AM

A giant statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed in Richmond, Virginia, Wednesday, more than a year after the order from Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam.

The 12-ton, six-story monument on Monument Avenue, erected in the state capital in 1890, was deconstructed nearly one week after the Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way for the removal following several legal battles.

PHOTO: Crews work to remove one of the country's largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Sept. 8, 2021, in Richmond, Va.
Crews work to remove one of the country's largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Sept. 8, 2021, in Richmond, Va.
Steve Helber/Pool via AP
PHOTO: The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is removed in Richmond, Va., Sept. 8, 2021, more than 130 years after it was erected.
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is removed in Richmond, Va., Sept. 8, 2021, more than 130 years after it was erected.
Jack Gruber/USA Today

Northam ordered the removal of the state-owned statue in June 2020, amid nationwide protests against symbols of racism and oppression that erupted following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in police custody.

"This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth," Northam said in a statement.

PHOTO: Devon Henry, owner of the construction company that removed the statue, hugs his mom, Freda Thornton, after he removed one of the country's largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, in Richmond, Va., Sept. 8, 2021.
Devon Henry, owner of the construction company that removed the statue, hugs his mom, Freda Thornton, after he removed one of the country's largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Sept. 8, 2021.
Steve Helber/AP
PHOTO: People gathered to watch the removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., react as it is taken down from the pedestal, Sept. 8, 2021, more than 130 years after it was erected.
People gathered to watch the removal of the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., react as it is taken down from the pedestal, Sept. 8, 2021, more than 130 years after it was erected.
Jack Gruber/USA Today

Last week, the Supreme Court of Virginia denied or dissolved injunctive relief sought in two lawsuits challenging the statue's removal -- one filed by a descendant of the former owners of the land where the monument stands, the other by several owners and a trustee of property in the area's historic district -- allowing the state to move forward with its plans.

PHOTO: Crews work to remove one of the country's largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Sept. 8, 2021, in Richmond, Va.
Crews work to remove one of the country's largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Sept. 8, 2021, in Richmond, Va.
Steve Helber/Pool via AP

The removal is "extremely complex," the state's Department of General Services said, requiring "coordination with multiple entities to ensure the safety of everyone involved." The removal process began Tuesday evening with crews installing protective fencing on the streets near the monument.

PHOTO: Crews remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Sept. 8, 2021 in Richmond, Va.
Crews remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Sept. 8, 2021 in Richmond, Va. The state removed the largest Confederate statue remaining in the U.S. following authorization by all three branches of state government, including a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia.
Steve Helber/Pool via Getty Images

On Thursday, crews will remove plaques from the base of the monument. The 40-foot granite pedestal will remain for now, with its future still to be determined, the state said.

The statue itself will be held "in secure storage at a state-owned facility until a decision is made as to its disposition," the state said.

This is the sixth and final Confederate statue to be removed from Monument Avenue.

PHOTO: The Robert E. Lee Monument is shown in Richmond, Va., Sept. 2, 2021.
The Robert E. Lee Monument is shown in Richmond, Va., Sept. 2, 2021.
Daniel Sangjib Min/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP, FILE

"We are taking an important step this week to embrace the righteous cause and put the 'Lost Cause' behind us," Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a statement. "Richmond is no longer the capital of the Confederacy. We are a diverse, open and welcoming city, and our symbols need to reflect this reality."

PHOTO: The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., Jan. 17, 2021.
The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Va., Jan. 17, 2021.
Jim Urquhart/Reuters, FILE

Last year, the busts of Lee and eight other Confederate leaders were removed from the Old House Chamber in the Virginia State Capitol building in Richmond. The Fairfax County School Board has also changed the name of the Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield to the John R. Lewis High School, in honor of the late Georgia congressman and civil rights leader.

A great-great-great-nephew of Lee has previously said that taking down Confederate symbols in public spaces is a "no brainer."

"I see them as idolatries," Rev. Robert Lee IV told ABC News last year. "They have been created into idols of white supremacy and racism."

Over 160 Confederate symbols were renamed or removed from public spaces in 2020, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

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