The Lee Monument and the other Confederate statues from Richmond’s Monument Avenue will be given to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, which will partner with The Valentine and other Richmond organizations to determine the future of the objects. The Thursday announcement is the latest move from Governor Ralph Northam, who has been working to conclude removal of the controversial Lee Monument and remove state control of the monument and the land.
“Symbols matter and for too long, Virginia’s most prominent symbols celebrated our country’s tragic division and the side that fought to keep alive the institution of slavery by any means possible,” Northam said in a Thursday press release shared by NBC12 reporter Henry Graff.
Monument Avenue used to feature a series of monuments to Confederate officials at multiple intersections. In 1996, a statue of Richmond tennis star Arthur Ashe was added. In 2020, Richmond removed most of the statues from the pedestals, leaving only Ashe and Lee. The circle of land in the middle of the avenue where the Lee Monument stood and the monument itself are state property; the Lee statue was removed to storage in two pieces in September. When Richmond removed its monuments, Northam asked the city to leave the pedestals in place during an effort to artistically re-imagine the historic district. That strategy has changed.
Facing the end of his term and set to be succeeded by a Republican, Northam has been working to end state control of the property. At the beginning of December, Northam ordered removal of the pedestal to storage and that the land be ceded to the city. Giving the monument and pedestal to the museum is the latest step in that process.
Removing the pedestal has also led to a renewed search for an 1887 time capsule hidden in the monument’s base. After state officials were surprised by a previously-unknown time capsule found high in the monument, crews finally found the copper box of the 1887 capsule on Monday. It contained a Bible, other books, ammunition, an 1865 issue of Harper’s Weekly, and some confederate memorabilia, according to WRIC.
The Thursday announcement also included the city-owned Confederate monuments; Richmond officials have been evaluating applications from people and organizations who sought the statues.
“Entrusting the future of these monuments and pedestals to two of our most respected institutions is the right thing to do,” Mayor Levar Stoney said in the press release. “They will take the time that is necessary to properly engage the public and ensure the thoughtful future uses of these artifacts while we reimagine Monument Avenue, focus on telling our history fully and accurately in places like Shockoe Bottom and lift up residents throughout the city.”
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin has been mostly quiet about the monuments, but some other Republicans have criticized the removal decisions and processes.
Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield), who may run against Congressman Rob Wittman (R-VA-01) for the GOP congressional nomination, has called for the monuments to be returned to their original locations, while private organizations fund new monuments.
“I would respect the context that which was the era in which these monuments were erected. They do bring in revenue for the state. It’s a national landmark, and people can choose to visit the monuments or not,” Chase told The Star in September. “And I would also choose to add to that the history from today.”
Senator Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), who is running for Virginia’s Seventh Congressional District, has written multiple letters warning that a new Virginia law allowing cities to remove the monuments has specific limitations.
“Localities only have the authority to ‘remove, relocate, or cover’ these monuments. Only the Virginia Department of Historic Resources can provide ‘contextualization,'” Reeves wrote in a letter to Richmond officials earlier this year. In September, Reeves wrote a letter to Northam asking that some items from the 1887 time capsule be returned to the original owners.
Earlier in December, Reeves suggested the possibility of working with a conservative attorney general to enforce the law, hinting at Republican attorney-general elect Jason Miyares.
“As long as I have air in my lungs, and the opportunity to get on a program like yours, and we get a conservative attorney general who actually follows the rule of law, I’m going to go after these folks,” Reeves said in reference to the Charlottesville decision on Richmond’s Morning News with John Reid. “And if that means criminal charges, then we’re going to file criminal charges. I am tired of people circumventing the law of the people.”
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