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Virginia governor announces removal of Robert E. Lee statue

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced Thursday the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from Richmond's famous Monument Avenue. The statue will be removed "as soon as possible," Northam said at a news conference where the announcement was met with extended applause.

The statue, which sits on state property, will move to storage while Northam's administration works "with the community to determine its future," The Associated Press reports.

Confederate Monuments Richmond
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam gestures as he announces his plans to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue during a news conference Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Richmond, Virginia. Steve Helber / AP

The Virginia Legislative Black Caucus said Wednesday in a statement that removing the monument is "a step in the right direction in the continued fight to address institutional racism, systemic disparities, and remaining vestiges of Jim Crow in our Commonwealth."

"These confederate monuments are a symbol of racism, oppression, and hate," the group said. "It coincides with similar actions, such as with the removal of the confederate statue at Appomattox in Alexandria and with plans to remove the Fredericksburg slave auction block this month. In addition, we must continue to focus on creating a better future by dismantling the systemic racism that still exists across our institutions."

Virginia House member Jay Jones told The Associated Press he was "overcome" by emotion when he learned the statue will be removed.

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The Robert E. Lee Monument stands on Monument Avenue, February 8, 2019, in Richmond, Virginia.  Drew Angerer / Getty Images

"That is a symbol for so many people, black and otherwise, of a time gone by of hate and oppression and being made to feel less than," he said.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said in a press release Wednesday that Confederate monuments have been spray painted during the recent protests that erupted following the death of George Floyd. The Associated Press reports protesters have rallied around the monuments and painted messages such as "end police brutality" and "stop white supremacy" on their surfaces.

Because of the history of racial injustice the monuments represent, the city plans to introduce an ordinance on July 1 to remove the statues from city land.

"Times have changed, and removing these statues will allow the healing process to begin for so many Black Richmonders and Virginians," Stoney said in the release. "Richmond is no longer the Capital of the Confederacy — it is filled with diversity and love for all — and we need to demonstrate that." 

"George Floyd's death may have happened in Minnesota, but the shock waves are bringing very valid pain to the surface in our city. Last night, Richmond told me to channel our city's pain into reform," he continued. "The consensus is that some serious healing has to take place."  

Monument Avenue also includes monuments of Confederate leaders J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury. Activists have spent years calling for the removal of Lee's statue, as well as the other Confederate monuments.

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About 20 members and supporters of Confederate heritage groups, including CSA II: The New Confederate States of America and the Virginia Task Force of Three Percenters or the "Dixie Defenders," face off with about 100 counter protesters at the Jefferson Davis Monument August 19, 2018, in Richmond, Virginia. Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Members of The Sons of Confederate Veterans, an organization of descendants of Confederate soldiers, are known to gather and celebrate near the monuments while dressed in Civil War-era clothing, and have pushed for these and other Confederate monuments to be preserved. 

"The Virginia Division is defending your American History and Heritage throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia. Fighting the narrow minded that are attacking our heritage," the group says on their website. "This is a costly endeavor."

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