The Largest Confederate Statue in the U.S. is Set to be Removed in Virginia

Robert E Lee statue

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A monument to Robert E. Lee will finally come down after more than a year of delays.

The largest Confederate statue in the United States will be no soon be no more. On Wednesday, officials in Richmond, Va., will remove a controversial monument to General Robert E. Lee that’s been a source of protests and legal battles. Here’s what you need to know about the heated debate — and what happens now.

Why is this monument being removed?

After much conversation about whether it’s appropriate to honor Confederate soldiers with statues like this — and how doing so impacts Americans whose ancestors faced the terrors of slavery — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced his decision to remove it in June 2020, days after George Floyd’s death at the hands of police set off nationwide protests about racism in our justice system.

Residents who wanted to keep the statue in place filed lawsuits that delayed the removal for more than a year. But Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled last week the statue could, in fact, be taken down at the state government’s discretion. “This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth,” Northam said in reaction to the decision. 

How big is this thing?

Including the bronze cast of Lee and its pedestal, the structure stands six stories tall and weighs 12 tons. When it was first installed in 1890, an estimated 10,000 Virginians used wagons to haul pieces that were then assembled at Richmond’s Monument Avenue. The site was previously home to five other Confederate statues that have since been removed.

Where is the statue going?

The current plan is to cut the statue itself into two pieces and transport them to a state-owned storage facility. Crews will also remove plaques at the monument’s base. The accompanying granite pedestal, which is covered in graffiti from protestors, will stay put for now while officials work to reimagine the site. Virginia’s governor plans to live stream the removal on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

What else do I need to know?

Arguments against removing statues like this one often point to the myth of the “Lost Cause,” an erroneous narrative that elevates the Confederacy’s interest in states’ rights to downplay its defense of slavery. Author Ty Seidule, who explored this in his book Robert E. Lee and Me, explained to us why this idea is untrue and how it’s used to support white supremacy.