Historic Robert E. Lee monument taken down following Black Lives Matter movement

Removal of Robert E. Lee monument

Photo by: James Galloway
Richmond residents watch in awe as the Robert E. Lee memorial is deconstructed.

Richmond has taken another major step in moving past its Confederate history with the removal of the controversial Robert E. Lee monument. Although this has been planned for a while, it became a reality on September 8, 2021, as workers removed the 12-ton monument from its granite pedestal on Monument Avenue.

“Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will come down this week. This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a Commonwealth,” Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement. He ordered the monument’s demise nearly a year ago in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, but the monument has only just been taken down.

Some consider the removal of the Confederate monument as a win for human rights. “Robert E. Lee fought for the preservation of slavery, something we cannot idolize. The statue literally puts the confederacy up on a pedestal. Removing it is the right source of action,” senior Sophie Rose Marusco said.  Tears of joy streamed down the faces of many locals as they watched the statue rise off its foundation. A genuine curiosity surrounded the air on Monument Avenue, as everyone wondered what the fate of the historic street would become.

The deconstruction of the statues along Monument brings controversy along with it. Both elected officials and average citizens alike have begun to wonder whether or not the course taken is one for the betterment of society. Many claim the removal of historic monuments is an infringement on the First Amendment, while others believe the statues celebrate and thereby condone the actions of the men represented.

“The statue should be taken down because it represents a time where people were oppressed; a time where slavery and discrimination were rampant, and we do not need a reminder of that in our everyday lives,” senior Julia Fogle said when asked about her thoughts on the statue.

The deconstruction of the 1800’s figures is a process that began months ago, at the dawn of the Black Lives Matter movement. Previous removals happened during this time, including the Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, and Matthew Fountaine Maury memorials. These monuments were taken down because of the civil unrest of July 2020, sparked by the murder of George Floyd. With the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, the only remaining statue is the Arthur Ashe memorial that is dedicated to the renowned African American tennis player. The importance of the removal of Lee’s statue stems from his time as the general of the Confederate Army. This also became the last Confederate landmark to be removed on the Avenue.

The opinions circulating this situation are extremely polarizing. Unfortunately, the difference of opinions tends to bring Midlo’s student body apart rather than together.

Senior Sofia Craig offered a different perspective about the fate of the monument. “I believe the monument could be taken to a museum and displayed, as long as it is clear that the statue is not meant to be honored. If we keep it as a piece of history, it is important to represent that full history, including the present-day Black Lives Matter movement and other campaigns of civil rights mentioned alongside the statue.”

On the other hand, junior Christian Davies is of the opinion that the statue should have remained on its pedestal. “I believe all the money that the taxpayers spent to remove the statue, the multiple day operation that it took, that money could have been redistributed to public safety, schools, and the large percentage of the city that lives in poverty,”

The Lee landmark is full of history, literally and metaphorically, as a time capsule was believed to be hidden underneath the concrete of the monument. This sent search teams scurrying, as an excavation search began shortly after the removal.

“Everyone is very interested in finding and knowing what is in the time capsule. Why do we need to discover it and find more rhetoric in there? Why not leave the past in the past?” Senior Sarah Kemp said when asked about her thoughts on the time capsule.

According to Channel 6 News Richmond, the time capsule will remain buried in the base of the monument. “After a long hard day, it’s clear the time capsule won’t be found—and Virginia is done with lost causes,” Northram’s Communications Chief Grant Neely said after a disappointing search resulted in failure.

The search for the time capsule will not continue because the damage the base of the structure would have to endure wouldn’t be worth it. Instead, Virginia politicians agreed to implement a new time capsule into the grounds of the Lee monument. According to Channel 6, the relic will symbolize the current state of American society, including all the race, sex, and class issues going on in everyday life. The time capsule will also include items that represent hope for our future society.

Removing a monument as old as the Robert E. Lee Memorial is an event of national significance. While many opinions have circulated nationwide about whether the monuments were a piece of history or a reminder of oppression, there remains only one monument standing. The question remains, what will be added to complement the current state of American Society? The only thing that is certain is that Richmond is one step closer to making its city more inclusive for all.