During a press conference on Thursday, Virginia’s Gov. Ralph Northam announced that a famous Confederate statue in Richmond, Virginia, would be taken down, ABC News reported. The statue is of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and it stands as a monument to the Confederacy in the town that was its capital during the Civil War.
Civil rights activists and supporters of racial equity movements have been calling for the statue to be removed for years, saying it was a monument to racism rather than history, according to ABC News. This week, as protests against police brutality and systemic racism following the death of George Floyd continued, protesters in Richmond gathered around the statue chanting “tear it down.”
Protesters in other cities have also targeted Confederate monuments during the protests that have raged for over a week now. In Birmingham, Alabama, protesters literally tore down a Confederate monument in a local park during a protest. The debate over the removal of Confederate monuments all over the South has been hotly contested for many years.
Mayor Levar Stoney on the removal of Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue: “We have two pandemics in this country: COVID-19 and racism… and the last two weeks have made it painfully clear both are lethal, especially for Black and brown people." pic.twitter.com/Avk1q4HmJn
— The Recount (@therecount) June 4, 2020
During Thursday’s press conference, Gov. Northam said that removing the monument was an important symbol of dismantling the systematic racism that pervades America’s past and present, per ABC News.
“The legacy of racism continues not just in isolated incidents,” Northam said. “The legacy of racism also continues as part of a system that touches every person and every aspect of our lives. We can no longer honor a system that was based on the buying and selling of enslaved people… we must do more than just talk about the future — we must take action.”
Gov. Northam also said that he wanted to make sure that the next generation was getting the right message about what Virginia stands for. He stated that the statue — which is a prominent feature of Richmond — doesn’t align with the message Virginia wants to send about who they are and what they value.
A descendant of Gen. Robert E. Lee also attended the press conference and stated unequivocally that he supported taking the monument down.
“There are more important things to address than just a statue but this statue is a symbol of oppression,” Lee stated.
Northam conceded that some people may be upset by the removal of the monument, but he insisted that doing so was the right move and that now is the right time. The statue is one of the few Confederate monuments that is owned by the state, which allows the government to decide whether or not to remove it. Many other Confederate monuments are privately owned, which makes taking them down a much more difficult process.
According to ABC News, Northam announced that the monument would be moved into storage and the Richmond community would be involved in the decision about its future.