Richmonders reflect as crews work towards removing Monument Avenue pedestal

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – In yet another historic moment in Richmond, the now graffiti-covered pedestal that held the Robert E. Lee statue for more than a century is coming down.

Crews began the removal process at sunrise on Monday. It’s a task that could be complete in just a few weeks.

8News is told crews will put up scaffolding Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday, they will begin to take the pedestal apart.

“It’s a symbol of expression,” said Lawrence West, the founder of Black Lives Matter RVA. West was at the site of the pedestal Monday watching crews put scaffolding up.

Governor Ralph Northam’s office expects the pedestal to be completely disassembled by Dec. 31, following more than a year of court battles and protests.

The 12-ton Robert E. Lee statue was taken down in September and the pedestal was temporarily left behind.

The Lee statue was last the Confederate monument removed from Monument Avenue. The other statues which were owned by the City of Richmond were taken down following a period of civil unrest during the summer of 2020 that was sparked by the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis Police. The one statue remaining is that of Arthur Ashe, a Black tennis champion from Richmond.

The Robert E. Lee statue was separated at the waist and pulled into two pieces. (Photo Tyler Thrasher)

Looking back on the removal of the Lee statue, West said, “It’s a victory for us.”

West agrees with Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney who said he wants the pedestal to be removed, but taken somewhere else like a museum to be preserved.

“That way we could view it to see what happened here and see what potentially could happen in the future, if, you know, if public sentiment is ignored, if oppression persists,” West explained.

The monument was listed as the most influential piece of protest art since World War II by The New York Times Style Magazine in October 2020. The magazine specified that this applied to its current graffiti covered state. Most of the messages on the statue are related to the Black Lives Matter movement and police reform. Before it was blocked off by fences, the circle around the statue was a frequent community gathering space that at times had things such as garden plots and a basketball hoop.

The state plans to donate the land it’s on to the City of Richmond. City spokesperson Jim Nolan told 8News the city wants to use the land to create a space that’s unifying.

Richmond resident Randy Blythe was taking pictures of the pedestal over the weekend. Blythe said he wants the land to continue to be the community gathering space it became in 2020.

“Black taxpayers have had to pay for the upkeep of a monument dedicated to someone who fought for slavery,” he said.

If circle surrounding the pedestal does become a designated gathering space, West said he thinks it will benefit the Richmond community.

“That will be a cure for some of the maybe gun violence,” he said.

Once it is removed, the pedestal will temporarily go to a state facility for storage.

“This is the end but it’s also the beginning,” West said.

The 1887 time capsule said to be inside of the monument was never recovered after an extensive search. The governor’s office said if it’s found it’ll be preserved.

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