A Virginia judge ruled Tuesday that a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee along Monument Avenue can be removed under the governor’s order. In June, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam announced plans to remove the statue of the general amid protests for racial justice in the U.S. in the wake of George Floyd’s killing.
At the time, monuments connected to slavery and colonialism became the target of Black Lives Matter protesters across the world. Statues on Richmond’s Monument Avenue were toppled by protesters or removed by the city. To date, the towering statue of Lee remains the only one standing following an injunction that had blocked it from being removed for months.
The plaintiffs argued in court last week that Northam does not have the authority to remove the statue because “it would violate restrictive covenants in deeds that transferred the statue, its pedestal and the land they sit on to the state,” NBC 12 reported.
But Circuit Judge W. Reilly Marchant ruled Tuesday that Northam can remove the statue though he cannot take that action immediately. The 130-year-old statue will remain in place until after the resolution of an appeal. The judge also ruled that keeping the monument in its current location “would be contrary to public policy” established this year by the Virginia General Assembly that would allow the removal of Confederate memorials.
“We are one step closer to a more equitable and honest Virginia,” Northam tweeted after the ruling.
Attorney General Mark Herring called the ruling a huge win.
“We WON the Lee statue case after a judge found that it was raised against a backdrop of white supremacy and that it is against public policy to keep it up,” Herring tweeted.
He said the ruling “will send a very strong message about how Virginia today values equality, values inclusiveness, that we recognize that this statue was a relic to a white supremacist past that does not reflect who we are as a Commonwealth.”
In 1890, the statue of Lee on horseback, which is 21 feet high on a pedestal almost twice as tall, was erected in the former capital city of the Confederacy.
The Confederate states, also known as the Confederacy, were 11 states in the United States of America that seceded from the Union after the election of President Abraham Lincoln. They existed between 1861 and 1865 but were never officially recognized.
These states formed the Confederacy as a way of maintaining slavery as a way of life — something the election of Lincoln threatened. In 2015, following the Charleston church shooting, a number of states removed statues dedicated to the Confederacy, as they believed that these statues glorified white supremacy and a government that thrived on the perpetuation of slavery.
In recent years, there have been renewed efforts to remove Confederate tributes due to the above reasons but those against the idea believe that Confederate statues like Lee should be made to stay to educate future generations of the evils of the past.