Progressive activists and Democratic leaders on Monday hailed the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee—who led Confederate military forces in their Civil War fight to preserve slavery and secede from the United States—from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.
The statue, which for 111 years had stood with one of George Washington, the slave-owning U.S. founding father, in the Virginia section of the National Statuary Hall Collection, was removed by workers early Monday morning, according to the Associated Press.
"The Robert E. Lee statue honors a legacy of division, oppression, and racism... I look forward to seeing a statue of Barbara Johns, whose bravery changed our nation, representing Virginia here soon."
—Rep. Donald McEachin
Ralph Northam, Virginia's Democratic governor, said the statue of Lee will be replaced with one of civil rights icon Barbara Johns, who played a key role in the desegregation of the state's public schools in the 1950s.
"We should all be proud of this important step forward for our commonwealth and our country," Northam said in a statement. "The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia's racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion."
"I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns' contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did," he added.
Last night, Virginia removed its statue of Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol.
This is an important step forward—it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion. pic.twitter.com/zyR99ukiIz
— Ralph Northam (@GovernorVA) December 21, 2020
The statue's removal comes after a state commission led by Virginia state Sen. Louise Lucas voted unanimously earlier this year in favor of the action.
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"Confederate images do not represent who we are in Virginia, that's why we voted unanimously to remove this statue," Lucas said in a statement. "I am thrilled that this day has finally arrived, and I thank Gov. Northam and the commission for their transformative work."
The Lee statue will be moved to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, the former Confederate and current state capital.
The Robert E. Lee statue honors a legacy of division, oppression & racism. @RepWexton & I are proud to have led the effort in the House to replace Lee’s statue.
I look forward to seeing a statue of Barbara Johns, whose bravery changed our nation, representing VA here soon. pic.twitter.com/1zfCfSsycw
— Rep. Donald McEachin (@RepMcEachin) December 21, 2020
Robert E. Lee’s statue was removed from the Capitol at 3am today.
We must continue telling the truth and reconciling with our nation’s history.
— Jamaal Bowman (@JamaalBowmanNY) December 21, 2020
The statue's removal comes amid a years-long national reckoning over the role of racist symbols and imagery in the United States. Notable developments this year include the removal of dozens of statues of the genocidal explorer Christopher Columbus and the replacement of the Confederate "Stars and Bars" on Mississippi's state flag with a magnolia blossom and the motto "In God We Trust."
However, back in the U.S. Capitol's hall of statues, Mississippi remains represented by former Confederate President Jefferson Davis, while a statue of Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens stands in the Georgia section. Both Davis and Stephens were charged with treason against the United States.