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Virginia removes Robert E. Lee statue from US Capitol, will replace with Civil Rights icon

Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue was removed during the night from the U.S. Capitol by the state of Virginia. The statue has stood with one of America’s first president, George Washington, as the state of Virginia’s contribution to the National Statuary Hall Collection at the Capitol for more than 100 years. It will be replaced by a statue of civil rights icon Barbara Johns.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) announced the move on Monday.

On December 16, the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol selected civil rights icon, Barbara Rose Johns, to replace the Robert E. Lee statue, after receiving public input from Virginia residents during several virtual public hearings.

“The two statues were added in 1909, which was 44 years after the Confederacy rebelled against the United States and was defeated. The Lee statue had been one among 13 located in the Crypt of the Capitol, representing the 13 original colonies,” a statement from the Governor’s office said.

“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” Northam stated. “The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion. I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns’ contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did.”

In April 1951 Johns was 16 years old when she led a walkout at Farmville’s Moton High School to protest the students’ substandard segregated school facilities. Civil rights attorneys Oliver Hill Sr. and Spottswood Robinson took the Prince Edward County case. It was rolled into Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled government-segregated public schools unconstitutional.

In December 2019, Reps. Don McEachin, D-4th and Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, urged Northam and Virginia General Assembly leaders to replace the statue, asking them to consider “what monuments we can add to acknowledge the horrors of slavery, expose the injustices of institutional racism, and honor those who dedicated their lives to fighting for equality.”

In a joint statement Monday, McEachin and Wexton said the removal of Lee’s statue was a “historic and long-overdue moment for our Commonwealth.”

“The Robert E. Lee statue honors a legacy of division, oppression, and racism — a dark period in the history of our Commonwealth and our country,” they said. “There is no reason his statue should be one of the two representing Virginia in the U.S. Capitol.”

A representative from Northam’s office was present for the removal along with Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D), who represents a large contingency in Northern Virginia in Congress.

It was recommended earlier this year by a state commission that the statue be removed from the Capitol. The commission was led by State Sen. Louise Lucas (D) and they voted unanimously to remove it.

“Confederate images do not represent who we are in Virginia, that’s why we voted unanimously to remove this statue,” Lucas replied in a statement. “I am thrilled that this day has finally arrived, and I thank Governor Northam and the Commission for their transformative work.”

Robert E. Lee’s statue will be taken to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond.

Gov. Northam’s proposed budget for the state includes $500,000 for the erection of the Johns statue, which must now be approved by the General Assembly.

Statue removal has become an issue in recent years that has been pushed by social justice activists and some politicians citing historic racism etc. as their motivation. Confederate statues have been targeted across the county because of this.

After George Floyd’s death earlier this year, the call to take down Confederate statues intensified once again. Northam, who was elected in 2017, has said he believes Confederate monuments should be placed in museums rather than displayed in public.

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