Virginia cuts Confederate Gen. Robert Lee statue into pieces

Sharon Jennings, a Richmond born and raised African American woman, said the statue needed to go, but she still had mixed feelings when she saw it come down.

“It’s a good day and a sad day at the same time,” said Jennings, 58. “It doesn’t matter what color you are if you really like history and understand what this street has been all your life and how you grew up, do you think, ‘Oh, my God.’ But as you get older, you understand that it has to come down. “

Some sang “Whose streets? Our streets! “And sang:” Hey hey hey, goodbye. ” where he began to argue with others in the crowd.

Northam ordered the statue to be dismantled last summer, citing the pain the Minneapolis death of George Floyd felt across the country after a white police officer pressed a knee to the back of his neck. But his plans were embroiled in litigation until the Virginia Supreme Court cleared the way last week.

The 6 m high bronze sculpture stood on a granite pedestal almost twice as high and has been enthroned above Monument Avenue in this former capital of the Confederation since 1890.

The state sent a deconstruction team, surrounded by a heavy police presence, to strap the statue to a crane. State, Capitol and city police officers blocked streets for blocks around the state-owned roundabout in Richmond using heavy equipment and crowd control gates to keep crowds out. The Federal Aviation Administration approved the state’s motion to ban drone flights during the event, which will be streamed live through the governor’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

“This is a historic moment for the City of Richmond. The city, the community at large, says we will no longer represent these symbols of hatred in our city, ”said Rachel Smucker, 28, a Richmond resident who was at the lookout with her sister early Wednesday.

Smucker, who is white, said she moved to Richmond about three years ago. It was her first time living in the south, and she found Monument Avenue “harrowing”.

“I’ve always found it offensive as a symbol of the protection of slavery and racism that people of color still face today,” said Smucker.

Appreciated for its artistic quality, the one-off stood alongside four other massive Confederate statues on the avenue, but the city removed the others last summer.

“We put things on pedestals when we want people to look up,” Northam said in June 2020 when he announced the removal plan. “Think of the message this sends to people who come from all over the world to visit the capital of one of the largest states in our country. Or to small children. “

The statue was Cut into at least two pieces so that it can be transported to an undisclosed government facility pending the final decision on its final use. The base is said to remain in place for now, although workers are expected to remove and pull out decorative plaques a time capsuleon Thursday.

After Floyd’s death, the area around the statute became a hub for protests and occasional clashes between police and protesters. The pedestal has been covered in ever-evolving, colorful graffiti, with many of the hand-painted messages denouncing the police and calling for an end to systemic racism and inequality.

The decisions of Richmond Governor and Mayor Levar Stoney to remove the Confederate Tributes represented a great victory for civil rights activists, whose previous calls for the removal of the statues have been steadfastly rejected by city and state officials alike over the decades was.

A previous wave of resistance to the statues came in 2017 when a white racist rally broke out in the city of Charlottesville. Other Confederate Monuments started to fall throughout the country.

But in Virginia, local governments were crippled by state law protecting memorials to war veterans. This law was amended in 2020 by the new Democratic majority in the Statehouse and signed by Northam. With the changes that came into force on July 1, 2020, the locations were able to decide the fate of the monuments.

Stoney then moved quickly, Citing the ongoing demonstrations and concerns that protesters could be injured if they attempt to destroy the giant statues themselves.

Work teams removed statues of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Confederate Naval Officer Matthew Maury, and General J.E.B. Stuart from the thoroughfare. Protesters overturned a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis ahead of Stony’s decree. Although the figures themselves have disappeared, their bases remain.

Northam’s plans to remove the Lee statue stalled until the Virginia Supreme Court cleared the way last week in unanimous resolutions against two lawsuits which state that in a democracy “values ​​change and public order also changes”.

The changes have redesigned the prestigious avenue, which is lined with mansions and Tony apartments and has been partially preserved as a National Historic Landmark District. Richmond officials are advancing plans to remove the plinths and other remains of the statues and at least temporarily pave or remodel the sites. Northam has hired the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to lead a community-focused redesign of the entire avenue, a process that is expected to be long and significant.

A statue of black tennis hero and Richmond native Arthur Ashe, erected on the avenue in 1996, is expected to be preserved.

Regarding the Lee statue, Northam has announced that his government will seek public opinion on what to do with it next.

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