Trial to Decide Fate of Robert E. Lee Statue Underway in Richmond

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The trial over a lawsuit aiming to stop Governor Ralph Northam from removing the statue of former Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee began Monday morning in Richmond.

After the death of George Floyd, the Lee monument and other Confederate statues throughout the city became a focal point of the summer protests over racial inequality and police brutality in Richmond.

The plaintiffs in the case are Helen Marie Taylor, a veteran neighborhood activist, and other residents that live near the monument, who originally filed suit against the governor after he ordered the statue be removed in June.

They argue that removal of the statue would violate restrictive conditions of a resolution adopted by the General Assembly in 1889 that transferred the deed of the statue, its pedestal and the land it sits to the state.

Attorney General Mark Herring’s office is arguing that Northam is within his authority to order the statue be removed and are calling for the lawsuit to be dismissed and the injunction barring removal to be lifted.

“It is past time for this divisive, antiquated relic to come down,” Herring said in a previous statement.

Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Merchant is presiding over the case.

No matter which side Merchant rules in favor of, the case will likely not be completely finished since an appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia is expected.

Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond City) supports the removal of the statue.

“I do think it should be removed because, as I’ve said and as others have said throughout this debate, those statues are visual reminders of a very dark and painful past for so many Virginians and Richmonders,” Bourne said in an interview with The Virginia Star. “We can do something else with those spaces that bring more unity and more togetherness rather than division.”

2021 Gubernatorial Candidate and Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield) opposes Northam’s action.

“The culture of America is that we’re a tolerant society of people with different values and beliefs than ours,” Chase told The Star. “I object to taking down the monuments because I believe that it is simply reflective of a period in time, and that its, regardless of what people choose to interpret the symbol to be, artwork from a period of time.

“I would also say that once you start erasing history, my concern is that we’re destined to repeat it. We are supposed to learn from history, not repeat it.”

One factor in the trial could be an amendment included in the General Assembly’s recently passed state budget, which repeals the 1889 resolution and has language for the removal and storage of the statue.

The 12-ton, 21-foot-tall statue stands prominently at the start of Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue and is the only remaining Confederate monument on the residential thoroughfare.

Originally unveiled on May 29, 1890 surrounded by a crowd of up to 150,000 people, the bronze statue was constructed by French sculptor Marius Jean Antonin Mercié who cast the giant work in nine total pieces – seven for the horse and two for Lee, according to previous reporting done by The Star.

Now, the statue’s pedestal is almost completely covered in spray-painted messages still remaining from the protests.

As of 5:30 p.m. on Monday, there was no ruling from Merchant.

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Jacob Taylor is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Digital Network. Follow Jacob on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Lee Statue” by Jacob Taylor/The Virginia Star.

 

 

 

 

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