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Crowds Cheered as Virginia Removed 'Lost Cause' Monument to Lee

empty pedestal
The pedestal that once held a statue to Confederate General Robert E. Lee. (Photo: Julia Rendleman)

Update: Just 50 minutes after work began, crews lifted the statue from its pedestal. The statue will be cut into two parts and transferred to the Virginia Correctional Center for Women in Goochland.

A small crowd gathered in alleys and side streets cheered as crews removed the statue.

On Wednesday, Virginia will begin removing a massive statue to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, more than 130 years after ‘Lost Cause’ proponents installed it in Richmond amid efforts to change the collective memory of the Civil War.

In the decades after its construction, the statue became a focal point first for a wealthy, all-white neighborhood; Lee was later joined by statues to other Confederate leaders. Then in 1996, a statue of Black tennis champion Arthur Ashe was added to Monument Avenue, despite serious opposition, under the direction of Gov. Douglas Wilder, the first Black man to serve as governor of any state since Reconstruction.

Current Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to remove the statue last June amid nightly racial justice protests after a police officer murdered George Floyd in Minneapolis. Lawsuits from residents hoping to keep the statue prevented removal until the Virginia Supreme Court decision last week

Activists celebrated the removal but noted it was only one demand residents made when they took to the streets. They say they’ll continue calling for major structural reforms to the criminal justice system.

Officials say the statue will be removed early on Wednesday, and the graffiti-covered pedestal - named the most influential work of protest art since World War II by the New York Times - will remain in place while discussions continue about the future of Monument Avenue.

Roads around the monument will be closed, and parking and pedestrian access limited. In-person viewing opportunities will be limited to a first-come, first-serve basis beginning at 8 a.m., in a designated area east of the statue on Monument Ave between S. Allen Ave and Lombardy Ave. The joint information center will release public safety messages and updates on Twitter and Facebook, and VPM will stream a live feed of the removal starting at 8 a.m.