General Lee statue falls in former Confederate capital
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – A statue of General Robert E.
RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – A statue of General Robert E. Lee who towered over Richmond for generations was dismantled, cut into pieces and blown away on Wednesday as the former Confederacy capital erased the last figures of the Civil War. which once defined its most important artery.
Hundreds of spectators erupted in cheers and chants as the 21-foot-tall bronze figure was lifted from a pedestal and lowered to the ground. The withdrawal marked a major victory for civil rights activists, whose previous calls for the dismantling of the statues had been strongly rebuked by city and state officials.
“It is very difficult to imagine, certainly, even two years ago, that the statues on Monument Avenue would actually be removed,” said Ana Edwards, community activist and founding member of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom Justice & Equality. “This is representative of the fact that we are sort of removing the layers of injustice that blacks and people of color endured when they were ruled by white supremacist policies for so long.”
Democratic Governor Ralph Northam ordered the statue to be removed last summer amid the nationwide protest movement that erupted after the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. But the related disputes his projects until the state Supreme Court led the way last week.
Northam, who watched the work, called it “I hope this is a new day, a new era in Virginia.”
“Everything remains like this one that glorifies the lost cause of civil war, it must fall,” he said.
The 21-foot (6-meter) bronze sculpture was installed in 1890 atop a granite pedestal about twice the height. The sculpture perched in the middle of a state-owned roundabout and stood among four other massive Confederate statues that were kidnapped by the city last summer.
A construction worker who tied harnesses around Lee and his horse raised his arms in the air and counted, “Three, two, one! To cheers from the crowd as the crane prepared to tear off the statue.
Some chanted “Whose streets?” Our streets! and sang “Hey, hey, hey, bye.”
With the statue on the ground, the crew used a power saw to cut it in half along the general’s waist, so that it could be transported under road overpasses to an undisclosed public facility until ‘a decision is made about its future.
The work was overseen by Team Henry Enterprises, headed by Devon Henry, a black executive who received death threats after his company’s role in removing other Confederate statues from Richmond was made public last year. He said the statue of Lee posed their most complex challenge.
Within hours, the pieces were gone. They were transported on a flatbed truck to the cheers of the remaining crowd and the thunderclaps of a midday storm. The pedestal should remain for now, although workers should remove a time capsule of the structure Thursday.
The work took place under a heavy police presence, with streets closed for blocks around the area, but no arrests were reported and no counter-demonstrators emerged.
Those who opposed the statue’s removal have often noted its artistic significance and Virginia’s central role in the Civil War. They argued that removing the statues would amount to erasing a key part of Commonwealth history. Just a few years ago, key government officials argued for its retention.
After a rally of white supremacists in the city of Charlottesville escalated into violence in 2017, other Confederate monuments began to fall across the country. But at the time, local governments in Virginia were crippled by state law protecting veterans’ memorials. This law was amended by the new Democratic majority at the Statehouse and signed by Northam, allowing localities to decide the fate of monuments as of July 1, 2020.
Of the. Delores McQuinn, a Democrat whose district includes Richmond and who sponsored the 2020 War Memorials legislation, said she avoided driving on Monument Avenue because she found the statues so offensive. Seeing Lee come down on Wednesday was “surreal,” she said.
“The fight, the fight… I hope some of the ancestors will feel justified,” said McQuinn, who is black and has been a strong advocate for better telling of Richmond’s black history in public spaces.
State Senator Jennifer McClellan, who represents Richmond and lives in the neighborhood, said the idea of the withdrawal had long seemed “impossible,” although this started to change after Floyd’s murder, when the area around of the law has become a hub for the growing protest movement and saw occasional clashes between police and protesters. The pedestal was covered in ever-changing colorful graffiti, with numerous hand-painted messages denouncing the police and demanding an end to racism and systemic inequalities.
“I physically felt hope in the air, if that makes sense, because I’ve seen multigenerational, multiracial people sing to suppress it and demand change,” said McClellan, who is black.
Changes to Monument Avenue remade the prestigious Boulevard, which is lined with Tony mansions and apartments and is partly preserved as a National Historic District.
Northam, who after a 2019 scandal involving a racist photo in his medical school yearbook pledged to spend the remainder of his term fighting racial inequality in Virginia, appealed to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to lead a community overhaul of the entire avenue.
Christy S. Coleman, executive director of the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation and former president and chief operating officer of the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, said she sees Wednesday’s withdrawal as a historic moment in the struggle for long time in the city for how to tell its story.
This effort “is perfectly normal for communities to do – ask who and what they are, what they value and how they want these values reflected, not only in the landscape, but in its laws”, he said. she declared.
Sarah Rankin and Denise Lavoie, The Associated Press