After months of careful planning by Virginia officials and engineers, Richmond's 21-foot-high statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee's "surrender came so fast — after less than an hour of work Wednesday — that hundreds of onlookers were caught by surprise," The Washington Post reports. The jubilant crowd cheered. Gov. Ralph Northam (D), who had ordered Virginia's largest remaining Confederate statue removed in June 2020 and persisted through several court challenges, said "this day has been a long time coming."
"The statue was on the ground by about 9 a.m., and by 10:45 a.m., workers had sawed off the torso of Lee and began loading it onto a flatbed truck," the Post reports. "Hours later, in the early afternoon, the truck carrying Lee and the horse pulled away in a thunderstorm," unceremoniously "ending the monument's 131-year reign embodying this city's mythology as the former capital of the Confederacy."
Devon Henry, the Black foreman who oversaw Lee's removal, said this was the 21st Confederate memorial he has taken down since last summer. The other statues on Memorial Avenue — Stonewall Jackson, J.E.B. Stuart, and Matthew Fontaine Maury — were removed last year, and "the only city-owned Confederate memorial still standing is a statue of Gen. A.P. Hill in an intersection on the north side of the city," the Post reports. "Its removal is taking longer to plan because its namesake is buried, standing up, beneath the statue."
"As recently as two years ago, Confederate enthusiasts waving battle flags were a common sight around Richmond," the Post recounts. "A succession of Black mayors and Black-majority city councils dared not challenge Richmond's Lost Cause iconography, and even the violence of 2017's 'Unite the Right' rally around a Lee statue in Charlottesville failed to change the landscape in Virginia's capital." The racial justice protests sparked by George Floyd's death changed that.
But not everyone cheered the statue's removal. Former President Donald Trump lavishly praised Lee and condemned his statue's dismemberment in what Politico calls a "historically inaccurate statement not unlike other racially charged messages he has issued."
Northam said the statue — erected in 1890, at the end of Reconstruction and beginning of Jim Crow — was "really a way to re-fight the Civil War." Lee and his Confederate allies, he added, "chose to be traitors to the United States and fought against our Constitution to promote slavery."