A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that represented the U.S. state of Virginia in the U.S. Capitol was removed early Monday.
In a statement Sunday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he had requested the removal over the summer after a commission decided that a man who fought to uphold slavery was not a fitting symbol for a diverse and modern state. The statue was removed in the pre-dawn hours on Monday.
Since 1909, Lee’s statue had stood with President George Washington’s as Virginia’s representatives in the National Statuary Hall, where every U.S. state is represented by two statues. The state commission recommended replacing the Lee statue with a likeness of Virginia native Barbara Johns.
As a 16-year-old in 1951, Johns protested poor conditions at her all-Black high school in the town of Farmville. Her court case became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that struck down racial segregation in public schools nationwide.
In his statement, Northam said he “looks forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol.”
From her Twitter account Monday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi echoed those sentiments, saying about the Lee statue, “There is no room for celebrating the bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place in our country.”
The Virginia General Assembly will vote during its session that begins January 13 on whether to authorize the statue of Johns, who died in 1991 at age 56. Northam included $500,000 for the effort in his proposed budget.
Confederate statues on public grounds like the U.S. Capitol and elsewhere have been offensive to African Americans for many years. But they became a national flashpoint in 2020, as Black Lives Matter protests erupted in the United States and internationally following the death in May of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in police custody in Minneapolis, Minnesota.