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House Speaker Removes Confederate Artifacts From Old Chamber

State removal
(Photo: Speaker of the House's office)

Crews quietly removed a statue of Robert E. Lee and eight other busts tied to the Confederacy from the state Capitol on Thursday night under orders from Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn.

In a statement, Filler-Corn called the pieces a “painful reminder of the deep-rooted wounds of slavery.”

“Virginia has a story to tell that extends far beyond glorifying the Confederacy and its participants,” she said.

She’s creating a commission chaired by Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond) to decide what to do with them now, and how to fill the space they’ve left.

The statue of Lee was located at the spot where he accepted command of Virginia's army and navy on April 23, 1861, after it seceeded from the U.S. 

Eight other busts celebrating the Confederacy were also sprinkled around Virginia’s old House of Delegates chamber, where the provisional Confederate Congress first met in 1861.

Many were paid for by state funds and installed during the 1920s and ‘30s. The bronze Lee statue was sponsored by former Democratic Gov. Harry F. Byrd, a powerful segregationist, and completed in 1931.

The House's top Republican, Del. Todd Gilbert, called Filler-Corn's actions “perplexing.”

“Unlike the Lee monument on Monument Avenue, this statue is a historical marker,” Gilbert said. “Another historical reality is that the Capitol building itself served as the Confederate Capitol, a fact that should no doubt force the Speaker’s new Advisory Group to recommend that it be razed to the ground.”

Other busts included Confederate President Jefferson Davis, Vice President Joseph Eggleston Johnston, and Confederate Gen. Joseph E. Johnston.

Del. Lamont Bagby (D-Henrico), chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, cheered the relocation.

“Generations of Virginians, Americans, and visitors from around the world have been greeted by these imposing symbols of treason and white supremacy for far too long,” he said in a statement.

Del. Jay Jones (D-Norfolk) was also supportive.

“They are symbols of hatred and oppression in what is supposed to be the people’s capitol,” he said in an interview.

Filler-Corn has the authority to manage parts of the Capitol tied to the House of Delegates. Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate used that authority in January to ban guns inside the Capitol building.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect the position Lee accepted in 1861. A previous version incorrectly stated he accepted command of the entire Confederate army. It has also been updated to include comments from Del. Todd Gilbert.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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