Virginia's enormous General Robert E. Lee statue is removed

America’s largest Confederate statue is removed: Richmond’s Robert E. Lee monument comes down in victory for BLM and will now be sent to Goochland Women’s Correctional Center

  • The 12-ton, 21ft bronze General Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia, was removed at 9am  
  • The statue is the largest Confederate monument in Virginia and the largest Confederate statue in the country 
  • It was erected in 1890 in honor of Lee, a prominent slave owner and revered Confederate Army general 
  • Last year, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced it would be brought down in light of the BLM movement
  • A time capsule that has been in the statue’s base for 131 years will be replaced by a new one 
  • The new capsule contains 39 ‘artifacts’ including a BLM sticker, a ‘Virginia is for lovers’ Pride sticker, an expired COVID vaccine and pictures from a Stop Asian Hate Protest 
  • Richmond Police closed the roads surrounding the statue and fenced it off ahead of the removal 
  • Pedestrians were allowed to watch it from a viewing area on Monument Avenue; they chanted, cheered and sang as it was taken down
  • Senate Republicans in Virginia and some residents wanted to stop it from being torn down; they say the monuments are part of the state’s history 
  • Another statue of Lee in Charlottesville was brought down in July  – that was the site of the Unite the Right rally in 2017
  • Since 2020, 160 Confederate statues, school names and monuments have been removed across the US 
  • The Southern Poverty Law Center says there are still some 2,000 ‘symbols’ still standing across the US  

America’s largest Confederate statue – the 12-ton bronze statue of Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee – was removed from its pedestal in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday morning to the sound of ‘black lives matter’ chants and crowds singing ‘Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye’ in the latest victory for BLM.  

The 21ft bronze statute of Lee atop a horse will now be sent to the Goochland Women’s Correctional Center in Virginia until officials know what to do with it permanently. It is the latest Confederate statue to have been toppled by the BLM movement amid protest from white residents who thought it should be preserved in history.  

Crews began hoisting the 21-foot-tall bronze likeliness of Lee on horseback about 8 a.m. EST and an hour later, it was on the ground, protected by a fence which kept crowds of spectators back.  

After being brought to the ground, workers began severing the top of the statue from the bottom using electric saws.  

Workers who were removing the statue gave the crowd a three-second countdown before they lifted the statue from its pedestal. 

The crowds of spectators cheered, whooped then broke into song, chanting ‘Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye’ as it was lowered to the ground. They also chanted ‘Black Lives Matter’.  

The 40ft concrete pedestal that it sat atop will remain in place for now, until officials decide what to do with it.  

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam made the decision to remove the statue last year ten days after George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. 

The statue was erected in 1890, 25 years after the end of the Civil War, and 20 years after Lee’s death. It was funded by the Lee Monument Commission, founded in 1886, which was led by Lee’s nephew, former Virginia Governor Fitzhugh Lee.   

Along with the statue, a time capsule that was buried at the site is also expected to be removed on Thursday and replaced with a 2021 capsule, filled with 39 ‘artifacts’ that include an expired vial of a COVID vaccine, a Black Lives Matter sticker, a ‘New Virginians booklet with portraits of 24 migrants and a ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ pride pin and sticker. 

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The huge statue of General Robert E. Lee is removed from the pedestal where it has been for 131 years in a huge BLM victory on Wednesday morning 

The 12-ton statue was removed from its pedestal shortly before 9am. People gathered to watch it chanted ‘Black Lives Matter’ and sang ‘Na Na Na Na, hey hey hey, goodbye’ 

The statue of former Confederate General Robert E. Lee is removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia on September 8, 2021

The statue on the ground next to the 40ft concrete pedestal where it has been for 131 years. The pedestal will remain in its place for now 

Crews are now severing the statue of Lee at its waist. The top part will be removed and then the horse and his legs will be cut from the plinth 

Crews use a saw to cut the statue as they remove one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021

The statue is being taken apart, into two pieces, that will then be sent to a women’s prison before officials know what to do with it permanently 

After removing the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from its pedestal, workers saw off the torso in Richmond, Virginia, USA, 08 September 2021

Crews remove the torso of Confederate General Robert E. Lee one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of on Monument Avenue 

Crews remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, September 8, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia

Dozens of spectators gathered on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday morning to watch the statue come doqn

The public watch crews work to remove one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Richmond

In a statement after it was removed, Gov. Ralph Northam said: ‘This was a long time coming, part of the healing process so Virginia can move forward and be a welcoming state with inclusiveness and diversity’. 

He added that it represented ‘400 years of history that we should not be proud of’.  

The statue had been fenced off and the roads surrounding it were closed at the start of the week in an effort to thwart crowds of protesters on both sides of the debate over removing it. 

Pedestrians watched the removal in a designated area on Monument Avenue.   

Northam announced plans to remove statue in June 2020, 10 days after George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. 

In anticipation of the statue coming down, the roads around it in Richmond were closed on Wednesday.  

The plans were stalled for more than a year by two lawsuits filed by residents opposed to its removal, but rulings last week by the Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way for the statue to be taken down.

Devon Henry, owner of the construction company that removed the statue, hugs his mom, Freda Thorton, after he removed one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy

Onlookers watch workers as they remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, after the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the state can take it down, in Richmond, Virginia, U.S., September 8, 2021

People celebrate as the statue of Robert E. Lee is lowered from its pedestal at Robert E. Lee Memorial during a removal September 8, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia. The Commonwealth of Virginia is removing the largest Confederate statue remaining in the U.S. following authorization by all three branches of state government, including a unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia

After the monument was taken down, a BLM protester with a BLM flag hopped the fence and ran inside the enclosure 

Workers prepare to hoist the 12-ton General Robert E. Lee statue from its pedestal in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday morning. The 131-year-old Confederate statute is the largest in the South. It is being torn down on Wednesday then split in half and sent to a women’s prison for temporary storage until officials know which organization to give it to permanently. Private citizens and museums have expressed interest in the statue 

The statue was lifted off its column on Wednesday morning but the enormous 40ft concrete pedestal will remain in place

Crew prepares to remove one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, in Richmond, U.S., September 8, 2021

The statue is shown above in 1905, 15 years after it was erected. The Civil War ended 25 years earlier and Lee died in 1870. It was erected in 1890 at the commission of his nephew, the former Governor of Virginia, Fitzhugh Lee, and was paid for by the Lee Monument Association 

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam watches the Robert E. Lee statue being removed on Wednesday morning. He ordered the statue’s removal last summer after George Floyd’s death 


On Thursday, an 1890 time capsule from the base of the statue will be removed and replaced instead with one from 2021 that includes 39 artifacts including BLM stickers and Pride badges.

The box was filled by Virginia First Lady Pam Northam on Tuesday. 

1. ‘Ballerina at the Lee Statue’ photo taken on June 5th, 2020

2. Expired Vial of COVID-19 Pfizer Vaccine and CDC Vaccination Record Card 

3. National Geographic Special Issue ‘2020 in Pictures’ with cover image of Lee Monument in Richmond 

4. Black Lives Matter sticker 

5. Collection of Michael Paul Williams’ Pulitzer prize-winning columns on Monument Avenue

6. ‘Writing a new history’ Kente cloth worn by the Commissioners of the Congressionally chartered 400 Years of African-American History Commission and Ghanian emissaries that participated in the 400th commemoration of 1619 at Point Comfort in Hampton

On Thursday, an 1890 time capsule from the base of the statue will be removed and replaced instead with one from 2021 that includes 39 artifacts including BLM stickers and Pride badges. The box was filled by Virginia First Lady Pam Northam last week

7. New Virginians” booklet with portraits of 24 immigrants

8. General Assembly Acts of Assembly from the 2020 Special Session

9. ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ pride pin and stickers 

10. The Protagonist poem in uncontracted Unified English Braille

11. Better Together LED Board coded by local schoolgirls 

12. VA Ratify ERA sash and ERA 2020 pins 

13. YOU ARE NOT ALONE pink heart print found on Richmond street after George Floyd protests in May 2020 

14. Election Officer Badge for 2020 General Election 

15. Monument Avenue Hip Hop Album by Noah-O and Taylor Whitelow 

16. Prayer beads left by a family member who passed away from COVID-19 

A photograph by Marcus Ingram, left, is among the items being placed in a time capsule during a ceremony in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2021

17. Danville Public Schools “First Lady” face mask, donated by Pam Northam 

18. Photos of the June 4, 2020 press conference announcing the removal of the Lee Statue 

19. Steel railroad spike talking piece found near African Ancestral Burial Ground 

20. Photos and fliers from Stop Asian Hate protests in May 2021 

21. Program and video from the dedication of Arthur Ashe Boulevard featuring a keynote from former Congressman John Lewis

22. Letter describing Virginia University Union’s history and commitment to the Richmond community 

23. Photo of the Virginia State Police at 14th and F Street NW in Washington helping DC Metro Police Department patrol the city for unrest after the insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 

24. Essays and poems from Arcadia Middle School students reflecting on the experience of being a student during a pandemic 

The time capsule will be placed at the site on Thursday 

25. Senate Resolution Commending the League of Women’s Voters 

26. ‘Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Monument is Coming Down, Thanks to Me and Black Women Like Me’ July 10, 2021 Teen  Vogue article written and submitted by Zyahna Bryant 

27. Hard copy of the Virginia Poet Laureate Luisa Igloria’s work Dear America

28.  Gifts from the dedication ceremony from the Mattiponi and Pamunkey nations, hand painted gourd rattle and hand crafted earrings with sturgeon scale and beading

29. Booklet which outlines Virginia’s first One Virginia Plan for Inclusive Excellence 

30. Rumors of War Wasn’t a Rumor photo lithographic plate with oil-based ink & sealant 

31. Copy of the LGBTQ Richmond Walking Tour created by Blake McDonald 

32. First Presbyterian Church Session 2020 minutes approving the formation of a Dismantling Racism 

33.  Video of the One Commonwealth Many Virginians: Uniting in Interfaith Prayer for Healing and Unity event

34. Piece of tarp from the unveiling of Kehinde Wiley’s Rumors of War Statue and photos from the unveiling event

35.  Document describing selected student submissions from the Governor’s Inaugural Black History Month Historical Marker Contest 

36. Post-Colonial Love Poem by 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry Winner Natalie Diaz 

37. New Legacy Postcard 

38. List of artifacts in the previous capsule as described in a Richmond Dispatch article 

39. Photo collage of individuals who contributed artifacts to the new time capsule and thank you note     

A construction team member removes the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the largest Confederate statue remaining in the United States, in Richmond

A construction team member removes the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the largest Confederate statue remaining in the United States, in Richmond, Virginia, U.S. September 8, 2021

Crews are set to remove one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, in Richmond, Virginia, USA, 08 September 2021

Workers assemble barricades to form a perimeter prior to the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue at Robert E. Lee Memorial on Monument Avenue September 7, 2021 in Richmond, Virginia

Black Lives Matter activists gather around the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee the night before it  was removed

Anje Nzassi holds his two-month-old daughter Tressa-Grace, while he looks at the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, the largest Confederate statue remaining in the United States, the day before the monument was removed 

It wasn’t immediately clear what would become of the sculpture, though some media reports indicated it would be stored until government officials determined how to dispose of it. 

General and slave owner Robert E. Lee – hero of the Confederate Army who became an icon for alt-right

Robert E. Lee was a decorated general and slave-owner who led the Confederate Army in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. 

He joined the army in 1825, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1829 and was the son of a Revolutionary War hero. 

Lee first saw action with the American military in Mexico in 1846. He later served as major general of Virginia’s state forces. 

During the Civil War, he led the Confederate side in the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam before surrendering to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865. 

He was a decorated war hero but a violent and cruel slave owner, who punished the slaves he’d inherited by lashing them.   

In 1859, Lee severely punished three slaves – Wesley Norris, his sister Mary, and a cousin of theirs – after they tried to escape the plantation. A newspaper at the time claimed Lee had them whipped once they were captured and returned to Virginia. 

Mary received 20 lashes while the two men received 50 before the pair were sent to work on railroads in Virginia and Alabama. 

Many of the 200 slaves he had inherited were either sold to traders or jailed by Lee and by 1860, only one family remained intact.  

He is believed to have told his son in 1868:  ‘You will never prosper with the blacks, and it is abhorrent to a reflecting mind to be supporting and cherishing those who are plotting and working for your injury, and all of whose sympathies and associations are antagonistic to yours.’ 

After the Civil War, Lee resisted efforts to build Confederate monuments in his honor and instead wanted the nation to move on from the Civil War.

After his death, Southerners adopted ‘The Lost Cause’ revisionist narrative about the Civil War and placed Lee as its central figure. The Last Cause argued the South knew it was fighting a losing war and decided to fight it anyway on principle. It also tried to argue that the war was not about slavery but high constitutional ideals.

In this June 30, 2015, photo, activists gather around the Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee statute at Lee Park chanting the names of Civil War era activists in Dallas

As The Lost Cause narrative grew in popularity, proponents pushed to memorialize Lee, ignoring his deficiencies as a general and his role as a slave owner. Lee monuments went up in the 1920s just as the Ku Klux Klan was experiencing a resurgence and new Jim Crow segregation laws were adopted.

The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, went up in 1924. A year later, the U.S. Congress voted to use federal funds to restore the Lee mansion in the Arlington National Cemetery.

The U.S. Mint issued a coin in his honor, and Lee has been on five postage stamps. No other Union figure besides President Abraham Lincoln has similar honors. 

A generation after the civil rights movement, black and Latino residents began pressuring elected officials to dismantle Lee and other Confederate memorials in places like New Orleans, Houston and South Carolina. 

The removals partly were based on violent acts committed white supremacists using Confederate imagery and historians questioning the legitimacy of The Lost Cause.

A Gen. Robert E. Lee statue was removed from Lee Circle in New Orleans as the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote.

The Houston Independent School District also voted in 2016 to rename Robert E. Lee High School, a school with a large Latino population, as Margaret Long Wisdom High School.

The Charlottesville, Virginia, City Council voted to remove its Lee statue from a city park, sparking a lawsuit from opponents of the move. The debate also drew opposition from white supremacists and neo-Nazis who revered Lee and the Confederacy. The statue in Charlottesville came down in July.  

Some of Lee’s descendants supported the removal of the statue. 

Last summer, his great nephew told ABC News: ‘This is a no brainer. This is an issue of justice and of peace. [If] we want peace in our time and the ability to [have] equality … we must do that by addressing the monuments not only in stone and in bronze, but elsewhere as well.’ 

A copper time capsule that was placed at the cornerstone of the pedestal October 27, 1887, will be removed Thursday.  

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam called the removals a sign of the time but some residents opposed it, claiming it went against 1890 deeds which protected the statue. 

‘This monument and its time capsule reflected Virginia in 1890—and it’s time to remove both, so that our public spaces better reflect who we are as a people in 2021,’ he said in a news release. 

‘The past 18 months have seen historic change, from the pandemic to protests for racial justice that led to the removal of these monuments to a lost cause. It is fitting that we replace the old time capsule with a new one that tells that story.’    

Library records indicated 37 local residents and businesses contributed about 60 objected related to the Confederacy to the historic cache. 

Governor Ralph Northam today announced the artifacts for the new time capsule, crafted by Richmond sculptor Paul DiPasquale.  

‘The 1887 capsule we will remove this week offers us an incisive bite of time when the Lee Monument was erected,’ DiPasquale said in a press release. ‘Now in 2021, this capsule gives future Virginians artifacts of the tectonic transition that has happened to us.

 He added: ‘The pedestal marks the past and has a new message for the future: we, all of us, are the New Virginia.’    

While many saw the statue as an offensive glorification of the South´s slave-holding past, public officials had long resisted its removal, along with residents of Virginia who argued moving the monument would be akin to erasing history. 

After the statue is taken down, crews on Thursday will remove plaques from the base of the monument and will replace a time capsule that is believed to be inside.

In Richmond, a city that was the capital of the Confederacy for most of the Civil War, the Lee statue became the epicenter of last summer´s protest movement. The city has removed more than a dozen other pieces of Confederate statuary on city land since Floyd´s death.

The base of the statue was covered with vandalized after Floyd’s death. It was covered with graffiti, art work, and comments calling for racial equity and social justice. 

 Given that the statue is one of the largest and most recognizable Confederate monuments in the country, its removal is expected to draw a crowd and a heavy law enforcement presence.

The Lee statue was created by the internationally renowned French sculptor Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercie and is considered a masterpiece, according to its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, where it has been listed since 2007.

When the monument arrived in 1890 from France, an estimated 10,000 Virginians used wagons and rope to haul its pieces more than a mile to where it now stands. The statue was the first of five Confederate monuments to be erected on Richmond´s Monument Avenue, at a time when the Civil War and Reconstruction were over, but Jim Crow racial segregation laws were on the rise.

The Northam administration has said it would seek public input on the statue´s future. 

The pedestal will be left behind for now amid efforts to rethink the design of Monument Avenue. 

Some racial justice advocates don´t want it removed, seeing the graffiti-covered pedestal as a symbol of the protest movement that erupted after Floyd´s killing.

After Floyd´s death, the area around the statute became a hub for weeks of protests and occasional clashes between police and demonstrators. The pedestal has been covered by constantly evolving, colorful graffiti, with many of the hand-painted messages denouncing police and demanding an end to systemic racism and inequality.

The decisions by the governor and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney to remove the Confederate tributes marked a major victory for civil rights activists, whose previous calls over the decades to remove the statues had been steadfastly rebuked by city and state officials alike.

A previous wave of resistance to the statues came in 2017 when a rally of white supremacists in the city of Charlottesville erupted into violence. Other Confederate monuments started falling around the country.

But in Virginia, local governments were hamstrung by a state law that protected memorials to war veterans. That law was amended in 2020 by the new Democratic majority at the statehouse and signed by Northam. 

With the changes that took effect on July 1, 2020, localities could decide the monuments´ fate. 

The process was supposed to take weeks, but Stoney decided to move faster, citing the continuing demonstrations and concerns that protesters could get hurt if they tried to bring down the enormous statues themselves.

Work crews removed statues of Gen. Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, Confederate naval officer Matthew Maury and Gen. J.E.B. Stuart from the thoroughfare.

Before Stoney´s decree, protesters toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Although the figures themselves are gone, their pedestals remain.

The changes have remade Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential street lined with mansions and tony apartments, part of which has been designated a National Historic Landmark district. 

Richmond officials are advancing plans to remove the pedestals and other remnants of the statuary and at least temporarily pave over or re-landscape the sites. Northam has tapped the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to lead a community-driven redesign process for the whole of Monument Avenue, but that process is expected to be a long one and has not made substantial progress.

A statue of Black tennis hero and Richmond native Arthur Ashe that was erected on the avenue in 1996 is expected to remain.

As for the Lee statue, Northam has said his administration will seek public input on what should happen to it next.

Several lawsuits were filed challenging the removal of the Lee statue and injunctions prevented its removal while the cases were pending. 

The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled unanimously last week against the plaintiffs.

The largest remaining Confederate monument in America is a carving on Stone Mountain in Georgia, shown above on Monday May 24, 2021. To remove it, experts say they would have to blow up the mountain 

The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is bathed in the late sun on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., Monday, Sept. 6, 2021

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