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Robert E. Lee No Longer Honored In Capitol’s Statuary Hall

December 21, 2020 by Dan McCue
The Robert E. Lee statue during its removal from the U.S. Capitol. (Photo by Jack Mayer, Office of Governor Northam)

WASHINGTON – A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that has represented Virginia in the U.S. Capitol for 111 years was removed from the building Monday morning.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam had requested the removal and a state commission decided that Lee was not a fitting symbol for the state.

“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” Northam said in announcing the statue’s removal.

“The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion,” he said.

Earlier this year, Northam signed legislation establishing the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol charged with studying the removal and replacement of the Robert E. Lee statue.

The eight-member commission, chaired by State Sen. Louise Lucas, voted unanimously on July 24, 2020 to recommend removal of the statue.

Earlier this month, the commission recommended replacing Lee’s statue with one of Barbara Johns, who protested conditions at her all-Black high school in the town of Farmville in 1951.

Her court case became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court. The ruling struck down racial segregation in public schools.

Northam said he’s looking forward to “seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns’ contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., also hailed the removal, saying in a statement there “is no room for celebrating the bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place of honor in our country.”

“The halls of Congress are the very heart of our Democracy, and the statues within the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans,” she said.

Each state is entitled to place two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection, and Lee’s statue was added to the collection, along with a statue of George Washington, in 1909.

The Lee statue had been one among 13 located in the Crypt of the Capitol, representing the 13 original colonies.

The presence of statues of generals and other figures of the Confederacy in Capitol locations such as Statuary Hall — the original House chamber — has long been offensive to African American lawmakers.

Confederate monuments have reemerged as a national flash point since the death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a White Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes.

Protesters decrying racism have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple cities, and many have been taken down.

The Lee Statue is being relocated to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond,Va., at the request of the state commission.

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