The Last Symbol of Hate: Virginia Removes Confederate Gen. Robert Lee Statue from State Capital

Richmond, Virginia – After more than a year of much legal discussion, one of the nation’s largest Confederate monuments – a lofty statue of Robert E. Lee, the South Civil War general – was removed off its pedestal in downtown Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday morning.

The statue was hoisted off its place and lowered to the ground just before 9 AM. A work crew then began cutting it into pieces. Jubilant shouts from a crowd of Virginians can be heard during the process.

“It was the last symbol of hate,” Bee Gardner of Richmond exclaimed. Now, his 8-year-old niece “can grow up honoring her racial identity, rather than a lost history.”

“As a native of Richmond, I want to say that the head of the snake has been removed,” said Gary Flowers, a radio show host and civil rights activist, who is Black and was watching the activity. He said he planned to celebrate on Wednesday night and would tell pictures of his dead relatives that “the humiliation and agony and pain you suffered has been partly lifted.”

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It can be described as an emotional moment for the people present during the event. The Lee statue was erected in 1890, the first of six Confederate monuments which symbolized white power that marked the main boulevard in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy. On Wednesday, it was the last to be removed.

“This city belongs to all of us, not just some of us,” said David Bailey, who is Black and whose nonprofit organization, Arrabon, helps churches with racial reconciliation work. “Now we can try to figure out what’s next. We are creating a new legacy.”

The country has periodically debated over tearing down monuments of its Confederate past, including in 2017, after a far-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. In Richmond, some of these monuments were removed after the murder of George Floyd last year. The statue of General Lee is the last to be taken down because of its complicated legal status. That was clarified last week by the Supreme Court of Virginia. On Monday, Ralph Northam, the state’s governor, who had called for its removal last year, announced he would finally do it.

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The removal of the statue marked the end of the era of Confederate monuments in the city, which is perhaps best known for them. Now, as the last statue is taken down, many people interviewed in this once conservative Southern city said that they might not have agreed in past years, but that now their removal felt right.

“I’ve evolved,” said Irv Cantor, a moderate Democrat in Richmond, who is white and whose house is on Monument Avenue. “I was naïvely thinking that we could keep these statues and just add new ones to show the true history, and everything would be fine.”

Some chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” and sang, “Hey hey hey, goodbye.” One man with a Black Lives Matter flag was escorted out by police after running into the fenced-off work area. No arrests were reported, and there was no sign of a counter-protest.

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