Before a cheering crowd of onlookers and revelers, a crew of Richmond, Virginia, officials on Wednesday sawed apart and then systematically removed a massive statue of Robert E. Lee in what was once the epicenter of the Confederacy for which he fought, and lost.
The more-than-12-ton monument was dismantled and removed less than one week after a Virginia Supreme Court ruling cleared the way for the Lee statue to be taken down, ending a protracted legal battle that began when Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) declared in 2020 that the memorial to the state's racist history was "wrong then, and it's wrong now." Shortly after the ruling, the state's Department of General Services issued a statement saying "this is an extremely complex removal that requires coordination with multiple entities to ensure the safety of everyone involved" without revealing Wednesday's date for the project.
"Any remnant like this that glorifies the lost cause of the Civil War, it needs to come down," Northam said Wednesday, adding that the removal would be "hopefully a new day, a new era in Virginia."
The Lee statue, the last Confederate memorial of its kind standing on Richmond's famed Monument Avenue, elicited strong reactions from the crowd as it came down, with many chanting "Black Lives Matter" at what has been one of the flashpoints in the renewed social justice struggle of the past few years.
"It's electrifying," onlooker Alexcia Cleveland told CNN. "It's bittersweet. I'm glad to see it down, but I would like to see more progress on issues such as police brutality and housing inequality."
Just over one year ago, Richmond's Democratic mayor invoked his emergency powers to remove several other of the city's Confederate statues, including ones memorializing generals "Stonewall" Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. That job, like Wednesday's, was overseen by Team Henry Enterprises, a Newport News, Virginia-based contracting firm whose CEO, Devon Henry, reportedly faced death threats after removing the statues last summer. Speaking with WTVR on Wednesday, Henry explained the logistical challenges of removing the massive monument.
"It won't transport in this height, so we need to lift the rider off the horse and transport it that way," Henry said. "From a thickness standpoint, we don't know how long it will take. Are there iron supports? It’s a total mystery."
The statue was ultimately sawed into several pieces to facilitate easy transportation to an undisclosed site, where it will sit until officials decide what to do with it. Personally, I think leaving it chopped up and shoved in the corner of some random warehouse is a perfectly acceptable option.