The state of Virginia announced yesterday that the infamous Confederate monument of General Robert E. Lee will be removed.
In 1890—25 years after the Civil War ended—Betty and Roger Gregory gave a parcel of their land to the state of Virginia for the erection of the Robert E. Lee monument. State officials explained in a press release that the land was granted “a generation after the Civil War,” calling the effort part of a larger “historical movement that sought to undo the results of the war by other means.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam intended to have the Confederate statue taken down in June 2020, following the sweep of Black Lives Matter protests across the U.S. However, those plans were blocked by two separate lawsuits, both of which which were overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court last week.
Both lawsuits argued that the monument could not be removed, as the deed stipulated that Virginia would “faithfully guard” the “Statue and pedestal and Circle of ground.”
One suit, filed by a group of Richmond residents, was denied because the monument represents government speech and is thus permitted to change over time. When the monument was first proposed in the 1870s, government representatives saw it as patriotic, but now understand that the monument serves “as a memorial to the southern white citizenry’s continued belief in the virtue of their cause, which defended their pre-Civil War way of life, including the practice of owning humans of African descent as chattel,” the court opinion reads. In light of this understanding, the government intends to remove the statue.
The other lawsuit was filed by William C. Gregory, the descendent of the landowners who had gifted the property for the monument to the state. Gregory argued that as a descendent, he could enforce the state’s promise to protect the monument as written in the deed, but the court found that he had no ownership claim.
“Today’s ruling is a tremendous win for the people of Virginia,” said the Governor in a statement following the court’s decisions. “Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value. When we honor leaders who fought to preserve a system that enslaved human beings, we are honoring a lost cause that has burdened Virginia for too many years.”
Less than a week after the court’s decision, the 40-foot-tall monument is slated to be removed. It will be held in a secure state-owned facility until a decision is made on how to display the statue in the future. The government hopes the remaining granite pedestal will prompt ideas for a new monument to replace it.
The statue of Robert E. Lee was the last of the Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue to be removed. Protestors toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States and plantation owner, in July 2020. Soon after all other Confederate statues on Monument Ave were removed by the state except for that which honored Lee. After the Lee statue is taken down, the last remaining monument will be of Black tennis champion Arthur Ashe.