A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that represented the state of Virginia in the U.S. Capitol was removed in the early hours of Monday morning.
The state of Lee had stood in the Capitol’s honorary hall, where every state is represented by two statues, since 1909. Virginia’s other representative is George Washington.
The removal of the Lee statue caps a year of reckoning for Confederate symbols across the South after the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis in May. Dozens of statues and other symbols have been removed from cities across the country in response.
This summer, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam requested the statue’s removal after Virginia’s Grand Assembly voted that a man who fought to uphold slavery was not a fitting symbol of the state in 2020.
Last week, a commission recommended that civil rights icon, Barbara Rose Johns, will replace the Robert E. Lee statue, based on input from Virginia residents during several virtual public hearings.
A representative from Northam’s office was present on Monday morning to oversee the removal of the Lee statue, together with fellow Virginia lawmakers Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Jennifer Wexton.
“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our commonwealth and our country,” Northam said in a statement issued Sunday night.
“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.”
The Lee statue will be transported to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, Northam's office said.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi also welcomed the news, saying in a statement that “Congress will continue our work to rid the Capitol of homages to hate, as we fight to end the scourge of racism in our country. There is no room for celebrating the bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place of honor in our country.”
Northam this summer also attempted to remove the statue of Lee in Virginia’s capital Richmond — which was also the capital of the Confederacy. However, his effort was blocked by legal challenges from the descendants of the family who were signatories on the deed transferring the land on which the Lee statue stands to the state.
The statue, which was dedicated in 1890, was one of five Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue in Richmond — before all the others were removed this year.
Barbara Rose Johns, as a 16-year-old in 1951, protested against poor conditions at her all-Black high school in the town of Farmville, and her court case became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which struck down racial segregation in public schools nationwide.
The General Assembly will vote to ratify the decision to install the Johns statue during its next session, scheduled for Jan. 13.