Hundreds of people gathered on September 8 in downtown Richmond, the capital of the state of Virginia, to witness the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, a former Civil War general. For many, the structure was a symbol of racial injustice, which is why it was the target of criticism and rejection during the massive marches after the death of the African-American George Floyd at the hands of the police.
The imposing statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was removed by crane on the morning of September 8 after 131 years on Monument Avenue in the city of Richmond.
The six-meter-high bronze sculpture was removed as hundreds of spectators applauded as the statue of the military man left a square that has been iconic to those who have gathered during the demonstrations of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement.
Those who applauded the removal of Lee’s statue had compelling reasons to be happy, as since 1890 it had become a symbol of those who favored slavery during the American Civil War (1861-1865).
More than 300 symbols of the Confederacy era and white supremacism have been removed in the past six years in the United States, while about 2,000 remain, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Several statues of General Lee, who led the Confederate troops, have already been removed in several cities in the south of the country. The one that generated the most controversy was the one removed in 2017 from a plaza in the city of Charlottesville and which sparked a violent demonstration by white supremacists in which one person died and several were injured.
The Confederate side, which lost the American Civil War, consisted of secessionist pro-slavery states from the south. Today, emblems that still remain in the country are considered offensive by many African Americans.
“I always found it offensive”
Many residents of the Virginia capital were delighted to witness the removal of Lee’s statue on Wednesday morning.
The monument was cut with an electric saw and transported to an undisclosed state facility until a decision is made on its final disposal.
“The wider community has said that they are no longer going to defend these symbols of hate in our city,” said Rachel Smucker, a resident of Richmond. “It always struck me as offensive, symbolizing the protection from slavery and racism that people of color still face.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ordered the statue’s removal several months ago, citing nationwide grief over the death of African-American George Floyd in Minneapolis after he was killed by a white police officer.
The case in Richmond made it to the Virginia Supreme Court, but several local governments were crippled by a state law protecting veterans’ monuments.
Ultimately, the law was amended by the new Democratic majority in the state chamber and signed by Northam, now allowing localities to decide their fate as of July 1, 2020.
“Any remnants like this that glorify the lost cause of the Civil War must be eliminated,” said Northam, who called it “hopefully a new day, a new era in Virginia,” adding that Lee’s statue represents a fact in the history of which “we should not be proud”.
After Floyd’s death, the area around the monument had become a meeting point and also for clashes between the police and protesters demanding an end to systemic racism and inequality.
With EFE, Reuters and AP