A state supreme court has issued the final word on a controversial statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia. The court ruled yesterday that the state can take down a statue of the confederate general after years of legal wrangling.
The ruling came in response to two lawsuits filed by residents who wanted to block the removal of the 21-foot-tall statue depicting Lee on a horse in military garb, which site atop a 40-foot pedestal.
In a statement on his website, Virginia governor Ralph Northam said: “Today’s ruling is a tremendous win for the people of Virginia. 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.”
Northam thanked attorney general Mark Herring and his former counsel, Rita Davis, as well as “all those who worked so hard for this victory.” He called it an important step toward moving “the commonwealth of Virginia and the city of Richmond forward into a more inclusive, just future.”
The state has been preparing for this moment for many months. While the ruling allows the state’s department of general services to begin executing a plan for removal, according to the governor’s website, the process is complicated by logistical and security concerns, including street closures and safety equipment required to ensure the safe removal of the 12-ton statue.
“Ultimately removal of the statue will be a multi-day process; while crews are moving quickly, no action on the statue is expected this week,” read a statement on the governor’s website.
Last month, the nearby city of Charlottesville removed its memorial to Lee, a nearly 100-year-old monument that was the site of a violent rally organized by Neo-Nazis in 2017. Municipal workers dismantled the memorial, as well as one built in honor of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, another Confederate general, during a public event. The two statues will remain in the care of the city until the Charlottesville council decides their fate.
Northam noted in his statement that the decision in Richmond might be even more historic: “Today it is clear—the largest Confederate monument in the South is coming down.”