A statue of Robert E. Lee that has been standing in the U.S. Capitol for over a century could be removed next year if Virginia Democrats have their way.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has indicated that he supports a request from Democratic Reps. Jennifer Wexton and A. Donald McEachin to remove the statue, according to The Washington Post. Passage of such a proposal is possible because Democrats will control Virginia’s legislature in 2020.
Lee is currently one of two statues representing Virginia in the National Statuary Hall Collection. The other is George Washington, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Lee’s statue has been in the Capitol since 1909,
Wexton and McEachin called on Northam to act in a letter to the governor, noting that the Lee statue is among those erected at a time when other statues to Confederate leaders were being built.
“These statues aimed to rewrite Lee’s reputation from that of a cruel slave owner and Confederate General to portraying him as a kind man and reluctant war hero who selflessly served his home state of Virginia,” they wrote in their letter.
“As Virginians, we have a responsibility to not only learn from but also confront our history,” they went on. “As part of this responsibility, we must strive for a more complete telling of history by raising up the voices, stories, and memories of minorities and people of color.”
Northam spokesman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement that Northam supports the plan.
“This is something the governor has long wanted to do — he is looking forward to working with the congressional delegation and members of the General Assembly to get it done this year,” the statement said, according to The Post.
Wexton said the Lee statue does not represent Virginia.
“Having Robert E. Lee represent us in the Capitol is not an accurate depiction of the commonwealth of Virginia today. Nor is it an accurate description of the entirety of our history. There’s so much more to Virginia than the Confederacy,” she said.
Republican state Sen. William M. Stanley Jr. mocked the proposal as “unbelievable yet predictable.”
“And while they are at it, they should wheel out the marble George Washington statue,” Stanley said. “What’s next? Are he and Wexton going to ask Ralph to knock down the old Capitol building because it was designed by Thomas Jefferson?” he said.
Arkansas and Florida have already beaten Virginia to the punch by planning to replace existing statues. Arkansas is replacing statues of Confederate lawyer Uriah Milton Rose and former Gov. James P. Clarke, known for his racist beliefs, with civil rights leader Daisy Bates and legendary singer Johnny Cash. Florida will swap its statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with one of civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune.
McEachin and Wexton offered options to replace Lee that include Nat Turner, who led a slave revolt in 1831, and civil rights activist Oliver Hill.
“Our state is not just a monochrome state. We are multicultural, and we deserve to be represented in such a fashion in a statue,” McEachin said.
The process for replacing statues requires a state to formally pass legislation and explain where the current statue will be put. States must pay the cost of supplying the statues.
Wexton said private donations could cover the cost.
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