Virginia cuts the statue of Confederate General Lee into pieces

A crowd erupted into cheers and songs Wednesday as task forces raised a massive statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the pedestal where it towers over Virginia’s capital city for more than a century.

One of America’s largest monuments to the Confederacy, the equestrian statue was lowered to the ground just before 9 a.m., after a construction worker who tied harnesses around Lee and his horse raised his arms in the air. and counted: “Three, two, one! “to the cheers of a crowd of hundreds. Then a work team began to cut it to pieces.

“Any remnants like this that glorify the Lost Cause of the Civil War must disappear,” said Governor Ralph Northam, who called it “hopefully a new day, a new era in Virginia.” The Democrat said it represents “more than 400 years of history that we should not be proud of.”

Sharon Jennings, an African-American woman born and raised in Richmond, said she had mixed feelings seeing him leave.

“It’s a good day and at the same time it’s a sad day,” said Jennings, 58. “It doesn’t matter what color you are, if you really like history, and you understand what this street has been all your life and you’ve grown up like this, you’re thinking, ‘Oh my God.’ But when you get older, you understand that it has to come down. “

Some chanted “Whose streets? Our streets! “And he would sing,” Hey hey hey bye. “A man with a Black Lives Matter flag was escorted by police after running into the fenced work area. No arrests were reported and there was no sign of a counter-protest.

Workers used an electric saw to cut the statue in two along the general’s waist so that it can be transported over highway overpasses to an undisclosed state facility until a decision is made on its final disposal.

The work was overseen by Team Henry Enterprises, led by Devon Henry, a black executive who faced death threats after his company’s role in removing the other Confederate statues from Richmond was made public last year. He said the Lee statue posed his most complex challenge.

“It won’t be transported at this height, so we have to lift the rider off the horse and transport him that way. From a thickness point of view, we don’t know how long it will take. Are there iron supports? It’s a total mystery, ”Henry said Wednesday.

Northam ordered the statue’s removal last summer, citing nationwide grief over George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis after a white police officer pressed a knee to his neck. The litigation tied their plans until the Virginia Supreme Court cleared the way last week.

The 21-foot (6-meter) tall bronze sculpture sat on a granite pedestal nearly twice as high, towering over Monument Avenue since 1890 in this former Confederate capital.

State, capitol and city police officers closed the streets for blocks around the state rotunda prior to its removal, using heavy equipment and crowd control barriers to keep crowds at bay. The Federal Aviation Administration accepted the state’s request to ban drone flights and the event was streamed live through the governor’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“This is a historic moment for the City of Richmond. The city, the community at large, is saying that we are no longer going to defend these symbols of hate in our city, ”said Rachel Smucker, 28, a white woman who moved to Richmond three years ago. “It always struck me as offensive, symbolizing the protection from slavery and racism that people of color still face.”

The pedestal will remain for the time being, though workers are expected to remove the decorative plaques and remove a time capsule on Thursday.

After Floyd’s death, the area around the statute became a center for protests and occasional clashes between police and protesters. The pedestal has been covered in colorful and ever-evolving graffiti, with many of the hand-painted messages denouncing the police and demanding an end to systemic racism and inequality.

The sculpture was valued for its artistic quality and was among four other massive Confederate statues that were removed by the city last summer.

The decisions of the governor and the mayor of Richmond, Levar Stoney, to remove the Confederate tributes marked a major victory for civil rights activists, whose previous calls to remove the statues had been steadfastly rebuked by city and state officials by equal. A statue of Richmond native black tennis hero Arthur Ashe erected in 1996 is expected to remain.

“I think it’s quite timely that the only monument left on this tree-lined street is Arthur Ashe, and I’m pretty sure it will stand the test of time,” Stoney said.

A previous wave of advocacy and resistance led to a white supremacist rally in the city of Charlottesville that erupted into violence in 2017. Other Confederate monuments began to fall across the country.

In Virginia, local governments were hampered by a state law protecting veteran memorials. That law was amended by the new Democratic majority in the state chamber and signed by Northam, allowing localities to decide their fate as of July 1, 2020.

Stoney then moved quickly, citing continued demonstrations and concerns that protesters could be injured if they tried to tear down the massive statues themselves. Protesters had already toppled a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis before Stoney’s decree. The task forces then removed the statues of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Confederate Naval Officer Matthew Maury, and General JEB Stuart from the public thoroughfare, where their pedestals remain.

Northam’s plans to remove the Lee statue stalled until the Virginia Supreme Court cleared the way last week in unanimous rulings against two lawsuits, saying that in a democracy, “values ​​change and public policy changes.”

The changes have remade the prestigious avenue, which is lined with mansions and apartments and is preserved in part as a National Historic Landmark district. Northam has turned to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to lead a community-driven redesign for the entire avenue.

As for Lee’s statue, Northam has said his administration will seek public opinion on what should happen to him next.


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