Virginia removes Lee statue from Capitol, hopes to replace it with teenage civil rights icon

Virginia removed its statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol.
Virginia removed its statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol.(Jack Mayer, Office of Governor Northam)
Published: Dec. 21, 2020 at 8:33 AM EST
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WASHINGTON (WDBJ) - A statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee was removed from the U.S. Capitol overnight.

Governor Ralph Northam made the announcement Monday. A representative from the governor’s office was there, along with U.S. Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton (D-33).

The National Statuary Hall Collection allows two statues from each state to be displayed. Along with a statue of George Washington, the Lee statue was Virginia’s contribution for the past 111 years. According to a release from the governor’s office, the two statues were added in 1909 - 44 years after the Confederacy was defeated.

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

“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Governor Northam.

Governor Northam signed legislation in 2020 that created the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol. This eight-member commission was established to study the removal and replacement of the Lee statue. On July 24, a unanimous vote recommended removal of the statue.

The Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond will now own the statue.

“Confederate images do not represent who we are in Virginia, that’s why we voted unanimously to remove this statue,” said Senator Louise Lucas, the chair of the Commission. “I am thrilled that this day has finally arrived, and I thank Governor Northam and the Commission for their transformative work.”

December 16, civil rights icon Barbara Rose Johns was chosen by the Commission to replace the Lee statue. The decision came following public input from Virginians during several virtual hearings.

In 1951, 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a student walkout at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, protesting the overcrowded and inferior conditions of the all-Black school compared to those of White students at nearby Farmville High School. The protest gained the support of two NAACP lawyers who filed a lawsuit that would later become one of five reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. That landmark case declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954. Historians consider Johns’ protest a pivotal moment in America’s desegregation movement.

“As of this morning, Virginia will no longer honor the Confederacy in the halls of the United States Capitol,” said Delegate Jeion Ward, who sponsored legislation creating the Commission. “When I think of Barbara Johns, I am reminded of how brave she was at such a young age. It’s time for us to start singing the songs of some of the Virginians who have done great things that have gone unnoticed. This is a proud moment for our Commonwealth, and I am humbled to have been a part of it.”

“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. I look 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,” said Governor Northam.

According to the governor’s office, the General Assembly must approve the replacement before a sculptor can be commissioned. If approved, Johns would be the only teenager represented int he collection.

Governor Northam included $500,000 for replacing the statue in his budget proposal.

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