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Virginia governor says Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue will be removed

Virginia governor says Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue will be removed
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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Thursday that the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee will be removed from Richmond’s Monument Avenue.

Northam said he directed the Department of General Services to remove the statue from its pedestal and house it in storage until an “appropriate location” is determined. 

Northam said the six-stories-tall monument “towers over homes, businesses and everyone who lives in Richmond,” sitting atop a large pedestal. 

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“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?” he said. 

“When a young child looks up and sees something that big and prominent, she knows that it’s important. And when it’s the biggest thing around, it sends a clear message: This is what we value the most. But that’s just not true anymore,” he added.

The Lee statue has long been a subject of controversy, with opponents saying it is wrong to celebrate a military leader who fought to preserve slavery in a city that was once the capital of the Confederacy. 

Pressure to remove the statue stepped up with the police killing of George Floyd and the nationwide protests about racial justice and police treatment of African Americans. 

The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue. The statues have been targeted with vandalism during protests over the death of Floyd, who was killed after an officer pinned him on the ground with the officer's knee on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes.

Northam's decision will certainly lead to complaints from many Virginians, and he noted that he expected there would be protests. 

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“I know some will protest. Some will say Lee was an honorable man. I know many people will be angry,” Northam said Thursday

“But my friends, I believe in a Virginia that studies its past in an honest way. I believe that when we learn more, we can do more. And I believe that when we learn more — when we take that honest look at our past — we must do more than just talk about the future,” he added. 

Northam was joined at the announcement by Virginia officials as well as the Rev. Robert W. Lee, General Lee’s great-great-grandson, and Zyahna Bryant, an activist who wrote the petition in 2016 calling for the removal of Confederate statues in parks in Charlottesville, Va.

The monument was erected for and is owned by the commonwealth. 

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said in a statement the "long over due removal" is a “step in the right direction” in the fight to address institutional racism, calling the statue a “symbol of racism, oppression, and hate.” 

Protesters have targeted the statue as part of this week’s demonstrations over police brutality. Police near the statue fired tear gas to disperse protesters on Monday about 20 minutes before a curfew. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) later apologized for the incident.