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Byrd statue removed from Capitol Square

Posted at 12:43 PM, Jul 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 12:26:43-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- The statue of Harry F. Byrd, Sr. has stood tall over Virginia's Capitol Square for 45 years, but Wednesday morning, contractors brought it down.

"Today is another step in our journey to tell our true history in Virginia," said Delegate Jay Jones of Norfolk, who introduced the bill that allowed for the statue's removal.

The former governor and senator is known for coining the term "massive resistance" during the desegregation of Virginia's schools in the 1950s.

In 1966, a decade after Byrd's death, Virginians raised $89,000 to erect the statue of him.

In 2021, the General Assembly appropriated approximately $275,000 for its removal.

“My father was denied entry to an elementary school a mile away from where he grew up because of Harry Byrd’s policies," explained Jones. "I came here as a child for field trips. My father was a member of the General Assembly and having to walk by that with him, and I asked him 'who is this man?' and he choked up a little bit knowing that man didn’t want him to go to school in the public school system in Virginia."

But the decision to remove the statue of the segregationist wasn’t unanimous. It passed the House by a vote of 63 to 34, and the Senate 36 to 3.

"We talk about being inclusive," said Governor Ralph Northam, who came out to watch the 10-foot statue being lifted from its pedestal. "We talk about diversity, and we really have to put our money where our mouths are and do the right thing."

The statue, its base and signage will be moved to an off-site storage location until lawmakers decide what to do with them.

"Capitol Square belongs to the people of Virginia and those that come and visit it, so we will have to discuss as to what we do next," said Northam. "But whatever we do, we want to embrace diversity."

While the statue is being removed, Jones wants to make it clear he and his Democratic colleagues don’t want to erase history.

“I gave a speech a couple years ago about there being two Virginias," he noted. "I think this is a big part of that, and if we can contextualize that, if we want to put it somewhere else, I think that’s important."

Jones added he’s thankful the statue that he said represented resistance will no longer stand in a public space.

“When we tell our stories, I think we want to make sure we are telling the whole story, and that’s what’s most important here," he explained.