Workers removed one of the country’s largest Confederate monuments off a pedestal where Gen. Robert E. Lee’s image had towered over Virginia’s capital city for more than a century, eliciting shouts and song from the crowd.
After a construction worker who placed harnesses on Lee and his horse lifted his arms in the air and counted, the statue was dropped to the ground just before 9 a.m.
Hundreds of people screamed jubilantly, “Three, two, one!” After that, a construction crew began chopping it up.
“Any remnant like this that glorifies the lost cause of the Civil War, it needs to come down,” said Gov. Ralph Northam, who called it “hopefully a new day, a new era in Virginia.” The Democrat said the statue represented “more than 400 years of history that we should not be proud of.”
Sharon Jennings, an African American woman who was born and raised in Richmond, expressed conflicting emotions about the closure.
“It’s a good day, and it’s a sad day at the same time,” said Jennings, 58. “It doesn’t matter what color you are, if you really like history, and you understand what this street has been your whole life and you’ve grown up this way, you’re thinking, ‘Oh, my God.’ But when you get older, you understand that it does need to come down.”
Some of the crowd chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” while others sang, “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” No arrests were made and there was no counter-protest.
Workers cut the statue in half at the general’s waist with a power saw so that it could be transported under highway overpasses to an unnamed state-owned facility until a decision is reached about its destiny.
Team Henry Enterprises, led by Devon Henry, a Black executive who received death threats after his company’s role in destroying other Confederate statues in Richmond was made public last year, was in charge of the project. The Lee statue, he added, was the most difficult issue they’d ever faced.
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“It won’t transport in this height, so we need to lift the rider off the horse and transport it that way. From a thickness standpoint, we don’t know how long it will take. Are there iron supports? It’s a total mystery,” Henry said Wednesday.
Last August, Northam ordered the statue’s removal, citing national outrage over the death of George Floyd at the hands of white Minneapolis police officers. His intentions were held up by litigation until the Virginia Supreme Court cleared the way last week.
Since 1890, the 21-foot (6-meter) bronze sculpture has stood atop a granite pedestal nearly twice as tall, towering over Monument Avenue in this old Confederate capital.
Around the state-owned traffic circle, state, capital, and local police officers closed streets for blocks and utilized heavy equipment and barriers to keep crowds at bay. The state’s request to ban drone flights was granted by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the event was live-streamed on the governor’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
“This is a historic moment for the city of Richmond. The city, the community at large is saying that we’re not going to stand for these symbols of hate in our city anymore,” said Rachel Smucker, 28, a white woman who moved to Richmond three years ago. “I’ve always found it to be offensive, as a symbol of protecting slavery and the racism that people of color still face today.”