RICHMOND — A Virginia House of Delegates committee voted Friday to advance a bill to remove the statue of former state Gov. Harry F. Byrd Sr. from Capitol Square.
House Bill 2208, introduced by Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, instructs the Department of General Services to place the statue in storage until its final location is chosen by the General Assembly.
“This statue serves only as a reminder to the overt and institutional racism that has and continues to plague our commonwealth,” Jones said.
The bill’s supporters included Rita Davis, counsel to Gov. Ralph Northam, who described Byrd’s work as preventing African Americans from voting, being seen or being heard.
“Had Mr. Byrd had his way, I would never have the opportunity to be before you, because I’m Black,” Davis said during the committee hearing. “The question is not whether we should remove Mr. Byrd’s statue from Capitol Square, but rather ‘Why on earth would we keep it at Capitol Square?’”
Speaker of the House Del. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Springfield, indicated during the hearing that the League of Women Voters also supported the bill.
The five Republicans serving on the committee voted against the measure.
Byrd, a Democrat, served as Virginia’s governor from 1926 to 1930 and as a U.S. senator from 1933 to 1965. He strongly opposed desegregation of public schools and led a “massive resistance” campaign in the South against the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education, according to documents from Old Dominion University’s Desegregation of Virginia Education collection. His statue was erected in Richmond’s Capitol Square in 1976 after his death in 1966.
Debate around the statue’s removal began last session, when Del. Wendell Walker, R-Lynchburg, introduced a bill to remove it, though the bill was ultimately stricken from the docket. The General Assembly passed legislation last year allowing local governments to remove Confederate monuments. The removal of statues in Richmond was accelerated following protests after George Floyd died in the custody of a Minneappolis police officer who has since been charged with second-degree murder.
The Department of General Services estimates the removal to cost approximately $250,000, according to the bill’s impact statement. Storage costs are estimated at $7,000 per year until the final home of the statue is determined.
The Rules Committee passed the measure on a 13-5 vote. The bill now heads to the House floor for consideration.