A massive statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond was removed on Wednesday after it had become the center of protests and a legal battle that lasted more than a year.
The Supreme Court of Virginia last week ruled in favor of Gov. Ralph Northam, who was sued by nearby property owners after he ordered its removal last summer amid nationwide protests spurred by the murder of George Floyd, a Black man, in custody of the Minneapolis police in May 2020.
The high court agreed with a circuit court ruling that restrictive covenants in two transfer of ownership deeds from the 1800s are unenforceable because they are contrary to public policy and are attempting to force the state to express “a message with which it now disagrees.”
Mr. Northam said removing the statue of the Virginia-born military commander is “doing the right thing after 402 years of this history that we should not be proud of — this is a step in the right direction.”
The governor and state Attorney General Mark Herring were among a crowd that gathered to watch the 26-foot-tall bronze statue depicting the Confederate icon on a horse be hoisted off its pedestal on Monument Avenue.
State officials said Monday that the 12-ton statue will be temporarily relocated to a storage area until they decide where it should reside permanently. It had to be cut in half with a power saw along the general’s waist so it could fit under highway overpasses, The Associated Press reported.
Team Henry Enterprises, a construction company from Newport News, Virginia, oversaw the statue’s removal. Owner Devon Henry reportedly dealt with death threats after his company helped remove other Confederate statues in Richmond last year.
He told the AP that the Lee statue was the company’s most complex challenge.
“It won’t transport in this height, so we need to lift the rider off the horse and transport it that way. From a thickness standpoint, we don’t know how long it will take. Are there iron supports? It’s a total mystery,” Mr. Henry said.
Mr. Herring said “with the removal of this grandiose monument to a past that no longer represents who we are as a commonwealth, we can turn the page to a new chapter.”
The 40-foot granite pedestal, which is now covered in graffiti, will stay in place as local residents “reimagine” the historic avenue lined with war monuments.
Various other Confederate statues in the area have either been pushed over by protesters or removed through an emergency order by Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.