Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans Thursday to remove a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee along Richmond’s prominent Monument Avenue.
The Democratic governor said during a press conference that the removal is the start of “a new course in Virginia’s history”
“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,” he said. “Or to young children. What do you say when a 6-year-old African American little girl looks you in the eye, and says, ‘What does this big statue mean? Why is it here?’”
The move is a long-awaited victory for civil rights activists who have called for the removal of the monument to the Confederacy.
The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said Wednesday in a statement that removing the monument is “a step in the right direction in the continued fight to address institutional racism, systemic disparities, and remaining vestiges of Jim Crow in our Commonwealth.”
“These Confederate monuments are a symbol of racism, oppression, and hate,” the group said. “It coincides with similar actions, such as with the removal of the confederate statue at Appomattox in Alexandria and with plans to remove the Fredericksburg slave auction block this month.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has also announced plans to remove other Confederate monuments along the Richmond thoroughfare, which include statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart.
Stoney said he would introduce an ordinance July 1 to have the statues removed.
“I appreciate the recommendations of the Monument Avenue Commission — those were the appropriate recommendations at the time,” Stoney said in a statement, referencing a panel he established that studied what should be done with the monuments and recommended the removal of the Davis tribute. “But times have changed and removing these statues will allow the healing process to begin for so many Black Richmonders and Virginians. Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy — it is filled with diversity and love for all — and we need to demonstrate that.”
Plans for removal come amid nationwide turmoil over the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for several minutes.