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Lee Statue Injunction Remains Until Lawsuit is Resolved

Crowd at Lee Monument
(Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

*Editor’s Note: This story is still developing. Check back later for more updates.

Virginia still can’t take down the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, at least for now.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant heard testimony from both sides in a lawsuit Thursday, filed by a man against Gov. Ralph Northam to stop him from removing the monument. Marchant did not rule from the bench, continuing a temporary injunction that’s kept the state from taking it down since early June. 

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley B. Cavedo ruled last month that Northam can’t move the statue on Monument Avenue until the legal fight is resolved. He has since disqualified himself because he lives near the monument. 

The injunction stems from a lawsuit filed by William C. Gregory, a descendant of the family who transferred the property to the state in 1890. Gregory argues that according to the 19th-century deed, the state agreed to guard and protect the statue, the pedestal it stands on, and the property surrounding the structure. 

Attorney General Mark Herring is defending Northam in the lawsuit. Herring argues that Northam has the clear authority to remove the statue. He asked the court to dissolve the injunction and toss Gregory’s lawsuit. 

“The assertion at the heart of this case is staggering. Plaintiff insists that a single person - who claims, at most, an undefined fractional interest in property conveyed to the Commonwealth 130 years ago - may indefinitely veto a popularly elected Governor’s decision to relocate a massive, government-owned statue of Robert E. Lee from one area of Commonwealth ownership and control to another,” Herring wrote in a brief filed earlier this week.

On June 4, Northam announced he was directing the Virginia Department of General Services to remove the statue as soon as possible. He said it would be stored until the community can determine what to do with it. The decision followed several days of racial justice protests in Richmond city streets that stemmed from Minneapolis police killing George Floyd.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has taken down all of the city-owned Confederate monuments in the historic district of Virginia’s capital city. 

The largest of the Confederate monuments, Robert E. Lee, now covered in graffiti, has become a community gathering space for protesters and other members of the public. 

Northam’s administration says despite the ruling, it will take several days to remove the statue because it is a complicated project. The Lee statue is 21-feet-tall and sits on a 40-foot-tall pedestal in the middle of a traffic circle. It was unveiled to the public in its current location 13 years after Reconstruction when white legislators disenfranchised Black voters and passed state and local laws enforcing racial segregation.

Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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