Gregory S. Schneider, Washington Post, December 5, 2021
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has agreed to take down the 40-foot granite pedestal that once supported the titanic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee and became the heart of last year’s social justice protests.
Once the iconic, graffiti-covered plinth is gone — which is expected by the end of the month — the state will transfer ownership of the surrounding traffic circle to the city of Richmond, officials said Sunday.
The deal takes the circle out of the state’s hands a few short weeks before Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) takes office on Jan. 15. A spokesman for Youngkin has said he supported the statue’s removal but lamented the graffiti on the stone pedestal.
The pedestal will be preserved and put into storage by the state until a more permanent destination can be worked out, said Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam (D).
Richmond city government issued a statement saying that it intends to accept the deed once the pedestal is removed.
“The future of the circle, like that of all Monument Avenue, will be determined through a thoughtful and community-rooted planning process,” the city said in a statement through Mayor Levar Stoney’s office.
The bronze equestrian figure of Lee had stood since 1890 until cranes brought it down on Sept. 8. Northam ordered its removal in June 2020 amid nationwide protests over racial inequity triggered by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who has since been convicted of murder.
A small group of local residents filed suit to block the statue’s removal and took the case to the Supreme Court of Virginia, which ruled in Northam’s favor at the beginning of September.
Northam and the General Assembly this year set aside some $11 million to create a commission to propose a new vision for the circle and all of Monument Avenue, but the transfer of ownership makes it unclear what will become of those efforts.
A spokesman for Stoney said the mayor “appreciates the governor’s willingness to transfer this land back to city control. And because the Mayor believes Richmond deserves a clean slate when we take it, he supports the governor’s decision to remove the pedestal.”
Northam’s spokeswoman, Yarmosky, said the pedestal removal was at the city’s request, which Stoney’s office confirmed.