RICHMOND, Va. -- A massive bronze statue of Robert E. Lee continues to tower over Richmond months after statues of other Confederate generals and figures along Monument Avenue were either toppled by protesters or removed by work crews hired by the city. But after 130 years above the city, General Lee's reign could soon be over.
The Supreme Court of Virginia will hear arguments Tuesday in legal challenges to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's plan to take down the monument. Those arguments come in the form of lawsuits filed by people who believe Lee should stay put.
“We have won every challenge that has been brought, yet the statue is still there because of an injection that I think was improper and should be dissolved,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said.
The plaintiffs, who are homeowners on or near Monument Avenue, assert an 1890 deed on the property revealed state leaders at the time promised to protect and maintain the land for perpetuity.
“We should not be bound by what people did 140 years ago in their effort to obscure what the Confederacy what was all about,” Herring said. “This statue was erected against a backdrop of white supremacy.”
Northam’s decision was announced in June 2020, just 10 days after George Floyd’s death under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer.
Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk), who is running against Herring for Attorney General in the state's Democratic primary, tied Virginia's ongoing justice reform to the removal of the statues.
“Tearing down that monument to the Confederacy is the floor,” Jones said. “A lot of these statues were erected well after the Civil War, but it was at a time in which the intimidation of Black communities was reaching a fever pitch.”
Andrew Bennett Morehead, a spokesperson for the Virginia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the statue commemorates the soldiers who died during the Civil War and should remain.
“There is irreparable damage that has been done to this monument through graffiti and it should be the onus on the state as agreed in 1890 to care for this - meaning clean the thing up,” Morehead said.
He believed the plaintiffs should decide what should happen to Lee if he comes down.
“However, the court needs to look at the law and not public policy,” Morehead said.
The state and plaintiffs will appear virtually for oral arguments on Tuesday at 9 a.m. in the Supreme Court of Virginia.
It’s unclear when the judges should hand down a verdict.
Patrick McSweeney, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, said he does not publicly comment on cases because he does not want the judge to think he was trying the case in the media
The Lee statue is the lone Confederate monument on Monument Avenue and the second still standing in the city.
The A.P. Hill statue on Laburnum Avenue remains as the city researches how to remove the man’s body from the monument.