Governor Ralph Northam announced that Virginia’s statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee was removed from the United States Capitol overnight. A representative from the governor’s office was present for the removal along with United States Senator Tim Kaine and Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton.
Each state is entitled to display two statues in the National Statuary Hall Collection, and for 111 years, the Confederate statue has stood along with America’s first president George Washington as Virginia’s contributions. The two statues were added in 1909, which was 44 years after the Confederacy rebelled against the United States and was defeated. The Lee statue had been one among 13 located in the Crypt of the Capitol, representing the 13 original colonies.
“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Governor Northam. “The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion. I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns’ contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did.”
Earlier this year, Governor Northam signed legislation establishing the Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol charged with studying the removal and replacement of the Robert E. Lee statue. The eight-member commission, chaired by State Senator Louise Lucas, voted unanimously on July 24, 2020 to recommend removal of the statue. At the request of the Commission, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, Virginia will accept ownership of the statue.
“Confederate images do not represent who we are in Virginia, that’s why we voted unanimously to remove this statue,” said Senator Louise Lucas. “I am thrilled that this day has finally arrived, and I thank Governor Northam and the Commission for their transformative work.”
On Dec. 16, the Commission selected civil rights icon Barbara Rose Johns to replace the Robert E. Lee statue, after receiving public input from Virginia residents during several virtual public hearings. In 1951, sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns led a student walkout at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, protesting the overcrowded and inferior conditions of the all-Black school compared to those of White students at nearby Farmville High School. This garnered the support of NAACP lawyers Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill who took up her cause and filed a lawsuit that would later become one of five cases reviewed by the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka when it declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954. Historians consider Johns’ protest a pivotal moment that launched the desegregation movement in America.
“Virginia will no longer honor the Confederacy in the halls of the United States Capitol,” said Delegate Jeion Ward, who sponsored legislation creating the Commission. “When I think of Barbara Johns, I am reminded of how brave she was at such a young age. It’s time for us to start singing the songs of some of the Virginians who have done great things that have gone unnoticed. This is a proud moment for our Commonwealth, and I am humbled to have been a part of it.”
The General Assembly must approve the replacement before a sculptor can be commissioned. If approved, Johns would complement the statue of Washington, and would be the only teenager represented in the collection. Governor Northam has introduced a budget that includes $500,000 to replace the statue.