The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the state can remove a large statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the city of Richmond's "Monument Avenue."
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam originally announced his intentions to remove the statue in June 2020, as the country was gripped with protests against racial injustice and police brutality.
The statue of Lee became the epicenter of the protests in Richmond. The monument was covered in graffiti, and at various times a picture of George Floyd — the man whose murder at the hands of police sparked nationwide protests — was projected onto the statue.
However, lawsuits have kept the statute intact. According to the Associated Press, those who filed suits included "a group of residents who own property near the statue and a descendant of signatories to a 1890 deed that transferred the statue, pedestal and land they sit on to the state."
While the courts weighed the legal fight over the Lee statue, other Confederate memorials on Monument Avenue were removed. Statues of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and Confederate Naval Commander Matthew Fontaine Maury were removed from Monument Avenue in early July 2020 and taken to an undisclosed location. A statue of Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart was removed from the area a week later.
Earlier this year, another prominent statue of Lee was taken down by officials in Charlottesville, Virginia. Public discussion over the removal of that statue sparked the "Unite the Right" rally of white supremacists in August 2017, a protest that led to the murder of counter-protester Heather Heyer.
Northam released the following statement regarding the Supreme Court decision:
“Today’s ruling is a tremendous win for the people of Virginia. Our public memorials are symbols of who we are and what we value. When we honor leaders who fought to preserve a system that enslaved human beings, we are honoring a lost cause that has burdened Virginia for too many years. I am grateful to Attorney General Mark Herring, my former counsel Rita Davis, and all those who worked so hard for this victory. This ruling is an important step towards moving the Commonwealth of Virginia and the City of Richmond forward into a more inclusive, just future. Today it is clear—the largest Confederate monument in the South is coming down.”
The Virginia Department of General Services said they will move "swiftly" to remove the statue, but plan to announce a removal date and details on how the public can view it at a later time.
"This is an extremely complex removal that requires coordination with multiple entities to ensure the safety of everyone involved," the department said.