masthead_37.jpg
Local NPR for the Cape, Coast & Islands 90.1 91.1 94.3
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Virginia's Massive Robert E. Lee Statue Has Been Removed

The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is removed from its pedestal Wednesday in Richmond, Va.
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is removed from its pedestal Wednesday in Richmond, Va.

Updated September 8, 2021 at 9:17 AM ET

On Wednesday, the state of Virginia removed the 12-ton statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee more than 130 years after it was installed in Richmond.

Despite its massive size, it was lifted from its pedestal in one piece and is headed for storage. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, was there as the statue came down and appeared pleased by its removal. A crowd also chanted and cheered as the statue of Lee — atop a horse — was lifted into the air by a crane.

People cheer as they watch the removal of the Lee statue, the largest Confederate monument in Richmond.
Crixell Matthews / VPM
People cheer as they watch the removal of the Lee statue, the largest Confederate monument in Richmond.

Northam announced plans to remove the statue in June 2020 during nightly racial justice protests in Richmond after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd, but that plan was held up by lawsuits, including one from a group of residents from Richmond's historic Monument Avenue that wanted to keep the 61-foot-tall memorial intact. Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court decided to bring it down.

In the decades following its construction in 1890, the statue became a focal point for a wealthy, all-white neighborhood; Lee was later joined by statues to other Confederate leaders. In 1996, a statue of Black tennis champion Arthur Ashe was added to the avenue despite serious opposition under the direction of then-Gov. Douglas Wilder, the first Black person to serve as governor of any state since Reconstruction.

Lee's statue was the largest Confederate monument in the city of Richmond and one of the largest in the country. Nearly every other Confederate statue in Virginia's capital was removed last summer, either by protesters or the city itself at the request of Mayor Levar Stoney.

The statue of the Confederate general is cut in pieces before being transported for storage.
Crixell Matthews / VPM
The statue of the Confederate general is cut in pieces before being transported for storage.

Activists have celebrated the removal of the monument but have noted it was only one of the demands they've made. They said they'll continue calling for major structural reforms to the state's criminal justice system.

Officials said the graffiti-covered pedestal will remain in place while discussions continue about the future of Monument Avenue.

Copyright 2021 VPM

Corrected: September 9, 2021 at 12:00 AM EDT
In a previous version of this story, we said that the Robert E. Lee memorial was 40 feet tall. It was, in fact, 61 feet tall.