RICHMOND, Va. -- Crews are in the process of dismantling the pedestal that the Robert E. Lee statue once stood on. They began setting up scaffolding Monday morning before they start removing blocks on Wednesday.
People from across Central Virginia came to see the action for themselves Monday including Shanda Gaston.
“It’s a bittersweet moment for me," Gaston said. “I got a phone call this morning that they were removing the pedestal.”
Confederate General Lee used to stand tall over Richmond's Monument Avenue atop the 40-foot granite platform, which is set to be completely removed by the end of the year.
“To have it removed, it’s like you’re erasing what we worked for," Gaston said.
Many activists against racial injustice, including Gaston, gathered at the Lee Circle over the past year and a half. During the height of protests in Richmond in the summer of 2020, the statue was considered the epicenter of the Black Lives Matter movement across the country.
Protesters attempted to amplify their message by spray-painting graffiti on the pedestal and surrounding barricades and some contain expletives that have never been washed off.
“It’s just the fact that I can’t ride by anymore and see the artwork and positive messages on there," Gaston said. "I feel empty."
However, not all Richmonders are on board with the removal.
“I just find it very much a shame that beautiful art like this is not being understood and that we choose to destroy it," said Ann Mclean. “The design, the granite, the cartouche, the lion's head, all of it stood for courage.”
She argued the monument never stood for slavery but instead was a testament to Lee's dedication to the Commonwealth.
"He stood for goodness and truth and due process of law," Mclean said. "There were people that loved Lee of all pigments and all faith traditions."
Governor Ralph Northam initially said in September that the pedestal would remain. However, on Sunday, his office reversed course adding it was important to remove the pedestal now before leaving office.
“This is something I intended to complete during my time as governor," Northam said.
Governor Northam explained concerns over what Governor-Elect Glenn Youngkin could do with the statue when he takes office had nothing to do with his decision to have the pedestal removed.
“I’m proud that when I turn over the keys to Governor-Elect Youngkin that the statue and pedestal will be preserved and stored," he said.
Youngkin's team did not want to comment on this new development. Instead, a spokesperson reiterated a previous statement from Youngkin in September: "The Supreme Court in fact has ruled on this and the statue is going to come down and I hope they move it to a battlefield or a museum, so we don’t lose the fact that we have a history, and we all need to know it.”
As far as the future of Lee Circle, Governor Northam said he expects a lot of discussions to take place among community leaders and members in Richmond.
"What do you want Monument Avenue to represent? What do you want it to look like? We have put money in the budget to help make Monument Avenue a welcoming avenue," Northam said. "We'll let the people speak, and that's the way it should be."
Gaston said she'd like to see the space utilized to create unity and not necessarily a statue of a person.
“They could put something there that represents Virginia as a whole whether you’re white, brown, black, don’t matter," Gaston said.
The Commonwealth will transfer ownership of the land to the City of Richmond. Mayor Levar Stoney's Office said a community-rooted process will help determine its future.