RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — 156 years after Appomattox, Robert E. Lee has surrendered once again.
This time, he fell to the power of the people, demanding change.
Lee’s likeness, mounted on his horse Traveler, was 12 tons of bronze perched on four stories of granite. He commanded the attention of pedestrians and motorists along Monument Avenue since 1890, just as he once commanded the Army of Northern Virginia.
But then a recent movement for a reckoning with Virginia’s past became an overwhelming force. The statue in recent months became a rallying point for protests against bigotry and oppression. Governor Ralph Northam (D) and Mayor Levar Stoney (D) called for its removal. Three other Confederate statues along the same avenue – Stonewall Jackson, JEB Stuart, and Mathew Fontaine Maury – had already fallen.
By 9 Wednesday morning, the end was near. Thousands of people chanted as they pressed against the barricades that police had erected for a safety perimeter. Lee faced a weapon that would not be denied – a giant crane that would lift him off the pedestal and bring his legend back to earth.
A local Army veteran who goes by the name “Rig” says it’s time to stop glorifying Lee‘s military record.
“Lee fought on the wrong side of history,” he said. “I get that he was a great general, but what does he represent? He represents a war to keep my people in chains.”
Richmond resident Marc Purintun says the removal of Lee’s statue better symbolizes a new Richmond.
“I think a lot of people have opened their minds and paid a lot of attention to systemic racism and oppression that’s happened, and now it’s a more inclusive community,” he said.
People who participated in the protest here in the past year and a half want this location to remain significant.
“Hopefully it will become a place where we can do the right thing and where people can see that racism and bigotry won’t stand,” said Corey Goss, who moved to Richmond from Virginia and has taken part in protests.
“Now that it’s down, if we don’t make it a rallying point, we’ve lost the opportunity to reclaim territory, reclaim ground that has been lost to the Confederacy for all these years,” said Russell Tee, who has also protested near the statue.
The Northam administration says the statute will be put in storage until an appropriate place can be found.
On Thursday. the time capsule from the 1880s inside the pedestal will be removed and replaced with a new one – to signal a new era in Virginia history.