Gov. Ralph Northam officially announced that the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert Lee would be coming down in the state’s capital city.
“Virginia has never been willing to deal with symbols until now,” Northam said at a press conference Thursday. “Generations ago, Virginia made the decision not to celebrate unity, but to honor the cause of divsion.”
The statue, located on Monument Avenue in Richmond, has been up since 1890. Several other Confederate war leaders are on the avenue, including Jefferson Davis, the president of the confederacy.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who has proposed removing the Jefferson statue along with the remaining Confederate statues on the avenue, opened the press conference.
“It’s time to put an end to the ‘lost cause’,” Stoney said. “It’s time to heal, ladies and gentlemen. Richmond is no longer the capital of the confederacy.”
Northam said the Lee statue was unique because the state owns it, while the other statues on Monument Avenue are owned by the city. He said it was originally done to ensure the statue stayed up “forever.”
“It was wrong then, and it is wrong now. So we are taking it down,” Northam said. Northam said the statue would be removed “as soon as possible.”
Northam was joined for the announcement by other local leaders and activists, including Zyahna Bryant, who wrote a petition in 2015 urging officials to take down the statue.
In her remarks she noted that now is the time to have tough conversations and to not shy away from issues like racial justice that are so important.
“I want to be clear that there will be no healing or reconciliation until we have equity, until we have fully dismantled the system that oppresses black and brown people,” she said. “Lives are on the line, our future is on the line.”
Reverend Robert W. Lee IV, the nephew of Gen. Robert E. Lee several generations removed, also spoke during the announcement.
“To those of you who might be doubting, to those of you who might be hedging your bets that this is not the time to do this, when will be the right time?” Lee asked.
He said Robert E. Lee’s image has become an idol of white supremacy and racism, one that must be corrected.
“As a Christian I am compelled to believe that this is a moment for us not to shy away from painful truths but to address them for what they are,” Lee said. “[My uncle] indeed was a complicated figure and we all know that but in our complexities we see that he was a man of his time who fought to continue the enslavement of Black people.”
Northam explained that it will cost money to take down the monuments but “there is a much greater expense when we don’t welcome people to Virginia, when we aren’t inclusive in Virginia.”
He said that he is more than willing to allocate resources to take down the monument which will be removed, “as soon as possible.”