Hundreds of people who had gathered in Richmond, Va., early Wednesday erupted in cheers as workers took down the Robert E. Lee statue that stood in the Confederacy’s former capital for more than 130 years.
While protective fencing had been installed along surrounding streets to restrict cars and pedestrians, a crowd of people still managed to gather in the area to watch as crews secured straps around the divisive statue.
Crowds celebrated as a massive crane lifted up the largest remaining Confederate statue in the country shortly before 9 a.m., slowly bringing him down to the ground as onlookers started singing the popular chorus from the 1960s Steam song, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.”
BREAKING: Robert E. Lee statue, erected in 1890, removed from its pedestal on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia. pic.twitter.com/RGRZQXDA9n— NBC News (@NBCNews) September 8, 2021
Workers then began cutting the statue into pieces, according to The Associated Press.
The Washington Post reported that more than 200 people, some carrying Black Lives Matter flags, had gathered in the area, with some getting there the night before in anticipation for the long-awaited removal of the statue considered by many to be a lasting symbol of white supremacy.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who first announced plans to remove the statue in June 2020, arrived at the scene Wednesday morning and stood nearby as crews prepared to remove the statue.
Northam had announced earlier this week that the statue, which he referred to as "Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate insurrection,” would be removed on Wednesday.
“This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth,” he said in a statement.
Virginia first lady Pamela Northam shared an image Wednesday of her and her husband, along with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D), gathered near the statue as it was removed, writing, “156 years after the end of the civil war, Virginia has come one step closer to being a more inclusive and welcoming Commonwealth.”
156 years after the end of the civil war, Virginia has come one step closer to being a more inclusive and welcoming Commonwealth. pic.twitter.com/7wvRfM35mx— Pamela Northam (@FirstLadyVA) September 8, 2021
The statue is expected to be kept at a state-owned facility following its removal.
A lawsuit filed by a group of Richmond residents and another by a descendant of the family who gave the statue to Virginia had delayed the monument's removal for more than a year.
Both legal complaints had argued that Northam was prohibited from removing the statue due to language included in its 1889 deed.
Following a prolonged legal battle, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled unanimously last week that the statue could come down, saying that the state was not beholden to prior agreements prohibiting the state from removing monuments from its property.
In July, the city of Charlottesville, Va., took down its own Lee statue following a years-long effort to have it removed, especially after it served as the site of the 2017 “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally that resulted in the death of a counterprotester.
--Updated at 11:12 a.m.