On Thursday, Governor Ralph Northam held a press conference to announce plans to remove Confederate monuments around Richmond, and specifically the large, six-story statue of Robert E. Lee located on Monument Avenue.
Northam gave a brief history of the statue. The statue was erected in May of 1890, twenty years after Lee’s death, and a generation removed from the Civil War. Leaders at the time wrote laws to coincide with the unveiling of Confederate monuments, such as limiting Black male suffrage and laws that forbade the removal of the monuments. Northam drew comparisons between the prevalence of Confederate statues and the implementation and protection of a system of oppression for Black and Brown Virginians, such as Jim Crow Laws.
Charlottesville-based activist and UVA student Zyahna Bryant spoke at the conference. As the author of the original 2016 petition to remove the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, she called for a partnership between organizers, activists, and politicians to incite change led by those who are the victims of marginalization. “Until we are all actively working to dismantle those systems [of oppression] we are complicit. Until we work to amplify the voices of Black women, Black LGBTQ folks, undocumented communities, we are still not doing it right.” She ended her speech with a pause before declaring, “Black lives matter.”
Reverend Robert W. Lee IV, a direct descendant of Robert E. Lee spoke at the press conference to announce his support of the removal of the statue as well. Addressing those who may oppose the removal, he said, “When will it be right to address the white supremacy and racism that we have made an idol of my uncle [Robert E. Lee] out of? We have created an idol of white supremacy, of hatred, of racism, and, rightfully so, out of the Confederacy. We must do our best now to address that.” He called for unity and noted that although the statue removal will not fix everything, it is a step in the right direction toward justice for Black and Brown Virginians.
Although an official date for removal has not been decided, Northam assured the press it will be coming down as soon as possible. Northam mentioned that although the decision to remove the bronze statue has been made, he and his team are in discussion as to what to do with the pedestal.