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Sunday, December 05, 2021

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Robert E. Lee statue removed from Monument Avenue

Harnesses are attached to the Robert E. Lee statue to before being lifted off of its stand.
Harnesses are attached to the Robert E. Lee statue to before being lifted off of its stand.

Work crews removed the Robert E. Lee Statue on the morning of Sept. 8 as crowds gathered at the fences of the roundabout on Monument Avenue to watch the historic moment. 

The Lee statue came down after the Virginia Supreme Court’s ruling on Sept. 2 that rejected lawsuits to keep the monument in place. The statue was the last Confederate statue left on Monument Avenue. 

Activists called for the removal of the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue for years. After momentum from Black Lives Matter protests last summer, Gov. Ralph Northam began the legal process for the statue’s removal, according to WHSV

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Onlookers sing and take pictures as the statue of Robert E. Lee is lifted from its pedestal on Monument Ave. 

People in the crowd cheered and sang the words “hey, hey, goodbye” as the statue was lifted off of its podium at 8:55 a.m. Crews began to take the statue down at 8 a.m.

People who protested last summer and watched the statue come down seemed relieved and excited, University of Richmond first-year Christian Herald said. She was driven to attend the statue’s removal because of her passion for social justice issues, she said.

A few people in a crowd on the corner of Monument and N. Allen avenues used megaphones to call out Mayor Levar Stoney and the Richmond Police Department for how they handled protests at the monument last summer. 

Herald and fellow students in her leadership course emailed their professor, Thad Williamson, and asked if they could watch the Lee monument be taken down in place of class on Wednesday, she said. Almost half of the class went to the statue removal together, and Williamson took them on a short walking tour to discuss the area and Richmond history afterward, she said.

First-year student Mary Beatty, another member of the student group from Williamson’s class, organized and attended the trip to Monument Avenue. She noted that the conversation on memorialization was familiar to her, recalling discussions from high school about the role and ethics of Richmond’s monuments. 

Beatty said it was interesting to be a first-year observing the Lee Statue come down amid ongoing discussions about memorialization on campus. 

“It's a conversation that's been happening a lot, so I was really grateful to be able to see it,” she said, referring to debates on campus about the names of buildings and unmarked graves. 

Beatty said she was grateful to Williamson and UR leadership professor Julius Hayter for introducing the members of her class -- which is part of the Endeavor living-learning community for first-years -- to these issues upon their arrival. It was eye-opening to discuss racial justice and memorialization with people in her class who come from different places and backgrounds, she said.

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A man walks through the crowd at the Robert E. Lee monument with a Black Lives Matter sign.

Work crews cut the 12-ton statue in half after its removal, and the pieces will be sent to storage at an undisclosed location, according to NBC

Officials had planned to remove a time capsule inside the pedestal and replace it with another that would represent the current cultural climate, according to NPR. The items would include a “Black Lives Matter” sticker and an old vial of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The search for the old time capsule stopped as the sun set on Thursday after crews faced difficulties finding it, according to WRIC. The new time capsule was still placed inside the monument. 

Twenty-six of the 112 Confederate monuments across the state were taken down, according to the Virginia Public Access Project. One statue remains on Monument Avenue of Arthur Ashe, a Black man born in Richmond known for his fame as a tennis player and civil rights activism. 

Contact City & State editor Eileen Pomeroy at eileen.pomeroy@richmond.edu. 

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