A monument honoring the traitor Robert E. Lee was removed overnight from the U.S. Capitol.
The statue of Lee, who commanded Confederate forces in the rebellion waged to preserve the institution of slavery in the South, had been a fixture in the federal Statuary Hall collection for more than a century. The Capitol collection features two monuments from each state, and Lee had been chosen to represent Virginia since 1909, just 44 years after the Confederate general surrendered to end the Civil War at the Appomattox court house.
The removal of Lee’s statue from the halls of Congress follows a unanimous vote by a Virginia state commission in July. “We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam in a statement. “The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history,” added the governor, who last year rode out a scandal after extremely racist images from his medical school yearbook surfaced, leading to a chorus of calls for his resignation, including from Joe Biden, Kamala Harris and the Congressional Black Caucus.
As commemorated by Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, the statue of Lee was lifted from its pedestal shortly after 4 a.m. local time:
4:02 am. 12/21/20. Crypt of the US Capitol. pic.twitter.com/2ttGecsj5B
— Tim Kaine (@timkaine) December 21, 2020
The state commission has voted for the Lee statue be replaced with a monument to Barbara Johns. As a 16-year-old in 1951, Johns led a two-week walkout to protest the substandard educational conditions at her all-black high school. Johns’ activism spurred litigation that was eventually folded into the landmark Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court case that forbade segregation in American schools. Jeion Ward, a Virginia delegate who was pivotal in the replacement of the Lee statue, praised Johns’ youthful bravery and said, “It’s time for us to start singing the songs of some of the Virginians who have done great things that have gone unnoticed.” Virginia’s General Assembly must still approve the selection before the sculpture can be commissioned.
The removal of Lee’s statue was celebrated by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “The Congress will continue our work to rid the Capitol of homages to hate, as we fight to end the scourge of racism in our country,” Pelosi said in a statement. “There is no room for celebrating the bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place of honor in our country.” Virginia was hardly alone in honoring shameful figures in the halls of Congress. Mississippi, which only this year removed the Confederate Battle flag from its state flag, continues to venerate Confederate president Jefferson Davis with a statue in the Capitol, for example, while Georgia honors Confederate vice president Alexander Stephens. At least half a dozen other Confederates are likewise honored.
America’s current racial reckoning, sparked this summer by the police homicide of George Floyd in Minneapolis, has led to the removal or destruction of statues honoring slave holders across the country. And activists have not stopped with Confederates, also toppling statues honoring founding-father slave owners, including prominent Virginians like Thomas Jefferson. For now, however, Virginia’s other Statuary Hall monument, honoring George Washington, the nation’s first president — who owned more than 100 slaves and wore dentures fashioned with human teeth likely pulled from the the mouths of slaves — is not the subject of any official reflection or debate.