Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Virginia Statue was removed from his post on the U.S. Capitol on Monday morning, ending a year that saw Confederate statues toppled as the nation counted racism in its history and institutions.
In April, the month before the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked global protests against racism and police brutality, Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia signed a law ordering the creation of a commission to study the withdrawal and the replacement of the statue. (The states are each assigned two statues to display in the United States Capitol; the other statue of Virginia is that of George Washington.)
The eight commission members voted on July 24 to recommend the removal of the statue of Lee, which will be donated to the Virginia Museum of History & Culture in Richmond.
The statue will be replaced by that of Barbara Johns, who, 16, defied school segregation in Virginia in 1951, Mr Northam said. The governor, a Democrat, called her a “pioneering young woman of color” who would inspire visitors to the Capitol to “create positive change in their communities, as she has done.”
Mr Northam said in a statement Monday that the move was “an important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country”. Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat from Virginia, was in attendance for the statue’s removal and tweeted a video of workers lifting it up at 4:02 a.m.
The House of Representatives, by a bipartisan vote of 305 to 113, proposed in July to purge the Capitol of Confederate statues. In June, Speaker Nancy Pelosi ordered the portraits of four House speakers who had served in Confederation be removed.
Ms Pelosi said in a statement Monday that the removal of the Virginia statue was “good news,” noting that during her first term as president, Congress removed the statue from the National Statuary Hall, a ornate section of the Capitol where 35 selected statues are located. displayed. The statue of Lee was in the Capitol crypt, directly under the rotunda, when it was removed, Kaine said.
In June, Mr. Northam ordered the removal of another statue of Lee in Richmond. The order was challenged by local residents, but a state judge ruled in October that the monument could be demolished.
This statue, on Monument Avenue, became a site of protest during the summer, with images of Harriet Tubman and George Floyd projected on it. The base of the statue was marked with graffiti and messages such as “Stop killing us” and “Defund the police”.
The removal of another statue of Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia was opposed by white supremacists who staged a rally in 2017 that led to the murder of counter-protester Heather Heyer. A white supremacist, James Field, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison for driving his car through a crowd, killing Ms Heyer and injuring others.
At the time, President Trump said of the rally that there had been “hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.” White supremacists welcomed his comments.
Mr Trump had threatened to delay this year’s defense authorization bill over a provision – which had garnered strong bipartisan support – to remove the names of Confederate leaders from military bases. (The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bill this month, defying the president’s veto threat.)
The president called the removal of the monuments of the Confederacy “stupid”, Tweeter in 2017: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being torn apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”
That the overthrow of Confederate monuments is an attack on American culture is a sentiment that has been echoed by various members of the Republican Party; an elected Arizona state senator criticized the statue’s removal on Monday, Tweeter, “They’re coming after all of us.”
President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in June that Confederate monuments “belong to museums; they do not belong to public places.
The statue of Mrs. Johns will join one of the Rosa Parks of the Capitol. The Parks Statue is located in the National Statuary Hall but is not affiliated with any specific state.
Ms Johns staged a strike for her all-black school of 450 students, who were crammed into a one-story building in Farmville, Va. That lacked a gymnasium, cafeteria and laboratories. The protest came four years before the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott.
She brought the student body together in the auditorium by forging a note to the teachers, ostensibly from the principal, asking them to bring the students there, Ms. Johns’ younger sister Joan Johns Cobbs told the New York Times in 2019.
When the students arrived in the auditorium, “there was no principal there, but it was my sister on the stage,” Ms. Cobbs said. Mrs. Johns died of bone cancer in 1991 at the age of 56.
When some classmates said they feared being punished by school officials, or even arrested, for the walkout, Mrs. Johns told them, “Farmville Prison is not big enough. to hold us back.
The students did not return to school for two weeks, waiting for their demands for a bigger and better building to be met. The principal threatened that the students’ parents would face problems if they did not return to school.
The NAACP took the matter into its own hands, focusing on integration rather than a new building. The organization consolidated the case with four others in what would become the landmark case of school segregation Brown v. Board of Education.