Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney have announced that the city’s iconic statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee will finally be removed. For years, activists have called for Confederate monuments to be taken down, saying they’re a painful reminder of the legacy of slavery. While many Confederate statues have been either removed or recontextualized in museums, Richmond’s statue of Lee has long been seen as one of the more egregious examples of Confederate hagiography. Now, it’s coming down amidst renewed calls for racial justice spurred by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I appreciate the recommendations of the Monument Avenue Commission — those were the appropriate recommendations at the time,” Stoney said in a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, referencing a city report that had called for re-contextualizing most of the statues. “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.”
In 2017, RELEVANT spoke with Rev. Rob Lee — a pastor and great-great-great-great-nephew of the Confederate general who has become an activist for racial justice and joined calls to have his famous ancestor’s statues removed from public places. “These statues aren’t there to celebrate a person. They are there to celebrate white supremacy, as an idol to it,” he told RELEVANT. “If your heritage is filled with violence, bigotry and white supremacy, is that really something you want to celebrate?”