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Virginia removes Robert E. Lee statue from U.S. Capitol

A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that stood in the National Statuary Hall in the U.S. Capitol for 111 years was removed on Monday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said.

Each state can place two statues in the collection, and Virginia contributed the Lee figure. In its place, Virginia plans on installing a statue of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns, who led a student strike in 1951, calling for equal education at her Virginia high school. Her case was consolidated into the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka lawsuit, which led to the Supreme Court ruling in 1954 that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

In a statement, Northam said 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."

The House approved legislation over the summer to remove Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol, but the Senate has not taken up the bill. In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the removal of Lee's statue is "welcome news," adding that the halls of Congress "are the very heart of our democracy, and the statues within the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans."