Richmond’s Controversial Robert E. Lee Statue May Head to the City’s Black History Museum

A Confederate monument to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia, that became a flashpoint in America’s fierce debate over public monuments may have a new home: the city’s Black History Museum and Cultural Center.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney announced last week that they had reached a tentative agreement to transfer ownership of the 21-foot-tall Lee statue, along with its pedestal and eight other Confederate statues removed from the city, to the museum. Under the proposal, the Black History Museum would work with administrators at the Valentine museum, which is dedicated to preserving the capital’s history, and community members to decide the fate of the controversial objects.

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“Entrusting the future of these monuments and pedestals to two of our most respected institutions is the right thing to do,” Stoney said in a statement, according to the Associated Press.

The plan still requires the approval of the city council, which will convene later this month.

The Robert E. Lee statue, which depicts the Southern general on a horse in full military garb, was a frequent site of Black Lives Matters protests over the police killing of George Floyd. In June 2020, amid a wave of monument toppling nationwide, Northam announced plans to remove the 130-year-old statue from public view “as soon as possible.”

The governor was temporarily blocked by a circuit court judge following a lawsuit. That suit cited an 1890 deed declaring that the Commonwealth of Virginia had agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” the object and the ground in which it sits.

The statue remained on view until last September, when a Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the state can finally take down the Lee monument. Following its swift dismantling, the monument was placed in storage.

“Symbols matter, and for too long, Virginia’s most prominent symbols celebrated our country’s tragic division and the side that fought to keep alive the institution of slavery by any means possible,” Northam told NPR after the agreement was reached. “Now it will be up to our thoughtful museums, informed by the people of Virginia, to determine the future of these artifacts.”


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