A monument to Confederate General Robert E. Lee is being removed from the state capital.
Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday announced his decision to remove the state-owned monument that stands six stories tall from Monument Avenue in Richmond.
The removal of the statue comes in the midst of Black Lives Matter protests regarding the death of George Floyd, an African American Minneapolis man, at the hands of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Floyd.
Northam noted in his press conference announcing the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue that Lee himself did not want a statue, but Virginia’s leaders chose to erect one anyway. Today, he said it’s time to remove the divisive symbol and move forward as a commonwealth and as a nation.
“Today, Virginia is home to more Confederate commemorations than any other state. That’s true because generations ago, Virginia made the decision not to celebrate unity, but to honor the cause of division,” Northam said. “I believe in a Virginia that learns lessons from the past. And we all know our country needs that example right now. America is…looking to Virginia to lead.”
Northam continued, “But make no mistake — removing a symbol is important, but it’s only a step. It doesn’t mean problems are solved. We still need change in this country. We need healing most of all. But symbols do matter. My friends, we all know it’s time. And history will prove that.”
Barbara Coleman-Brown, president of the Halifax-South Boston chapter of the NAACP, said while she does not like what the Confederate statue symbolizes, she believes the controversy surrounding the removal of the statue is a distraction from the “real work” that needs to be done to address racism in America.
“It is a symbol from when our country was most divided, in the Civil War. That’s what it represents,” Coleman-Brown said. “That division is not something to be wallowing in. We need to be moving forward. The Civil War is over…the discussion should be how do we proceed in tangible ways to bring this country together.”
Coleman-Brown added, “Racism is institutionalized in this country. That means they (lawmakers) made policies and laws to bring it about. The question is how do we dismantle these separate policies that were created over the years.”
The leader of the local NAACP chapter said she does not believe the current members of the nation’s General Assembly and the judges are ready to make those changes.
“The work to create a unified country is very difficult, and it’s going to require very courageous people. Right now, we can count the people who are courageous enough to take that stand,” Coleman-Brown said. “We’re going to have to elect the people to do what it takes. This Old Guard is too comfortable with what they have.”
Del. James Edmunds, a representative for the 60th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, shared that he does not believe the removal of a statue will solve the problems currently facing this country.
“I am strongly opposed to the removal of these statues,” Edmunds said, in a written statement sent to The Gazette-Virginian on Sunday morning. “Removing the statues only further divides us as a nation, and destroying inanimate objects will not solve the issues of hatred and racism and will not remove the anger and hurt felt by those on either side of this issue.”
On the other hand, Nevaeh Hodges, organizer of a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest held Tuesday evening in South Boston, said she was glad to hear about the removal of the Robert E. Lee monument from the state capital.
“I’m very happy that they are choosing to remove it,” Hodges said. “Keeping up a statue like that would show that America is proud of its racist history. How can we say black lives matter when symbols of the complete opposite are displayed in our country?”
Hodges added that the Black Lives Matter movement is not just about police brutality such as that shown to George Floyd; it is about “racism in this country as a whole.” She said she was encouraged by the conversation sparked by the Black Lives Matter protest that she organized.
“I feel like people need to sit down and talk about racism and things we need to do to fix it. We need cooperation from all groups to really solve the problem,” Hodges said.