Story at a glance

  • The 60-foot statue depicting the Confederate general on horseback became the focus of a series of protests earlier this year following the killing of George Floyd.
  • In early June, Northam called for the statue to be taken down from Richmond’s Monument Avenue, and the Virginia state board later unanimously approved the removal.
  • A group of Richmond residents who live near the monument filed a lawsuit against the state following Northam’s decision.

Trial kicked off Monday in a lawsuit challenging Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s effort to remove a 12-ton bronze statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that was erected in Richmond in 1890. 

The 60-foot statue depicting the Confederate general on horseback became the focus of a series of protests earlier this year following the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who died at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. The giant pedestal of the statute has been covered by graffiti denouncing police, systemic racism and inequality. 


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Floyd’s death sparked mass protests against police brutality and racial inequity, as well as a push to remove Confederate monuments in public spaces. 

In early June, Northam called for the statue to be taken down from Richmond’s Monument Avenue and the Virginia state board later unanimously approved the removal. 

“Think about the message this sends to people coming from around the world to visit the capital city of one of the largest states in the country. Or to young children. What do you say when a six-year-old African American little girl looks you in the eye, and says: What does this big statue mean? Why is it here?” Northam said back in June. 

But a group of Richmond residents who live near the monument filed a lawsuit against the state following Northam’s decision, and a circuit court judge imposed an injunction that stopped the statue from being removed until a trial was carried out beginning this week. 

The plaintiffs argue the governor does not have the authority to remove the statue and doing so would violate restrictive covenants in deeds that transferred the statue, its pedestal and the land they sit on to the state, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“That the Governor now disagrees with the original message, or discerns a different message in the Lee Monument, does not give him authority to override the contractual obligations of the Commonwealth,” the plaintiffs’ attorneys wrote in a court filing, according to the news outlet. 

The state argues the statue is a racist and divisive symbol and the governor is well within his authority to take it down. 

Other large Confederate statutes that sat on Monument Avenue were either torn down by protesters or removed by the city. 


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Published on Oct 19, 2020