RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — As the effort to remove the state-owned monument of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond continues to stall, two different statues of him are coming down. One of those removals is already complete while the other is expected to take much longer.
There was no opportunity for lawsuits, protests or even media coverage before nine confederate symbols were quietly removed from the Old House Chamber overnight at the Virginia State Capitol. Virginia House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat, said she has the power to order the take down–something she wanted done safely and quickly.
“It was something I strongly believed needed to happen. I wanted to get it done but also wanted to ensure that everyone was safe in the process…Making sure folks knew in advance would’ve put safety in jeopardy,” Filler-Corn said in an interview with 8News after the removal wrapped up Friday morning.
The statue of Robert E. Lee that used to stand in the Old House Chamber, which is no longer used for official business, marks the spot where he accepted command of Confederate forces in Virginia when the state voted to succeed from the union in 1861.
Also removed were busts of J.E.B. Stuart, Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Former Virginia Gov. Fitzhugh Lee.
On Friday, the spaces those symbols once occupied were bare. Even the plaques had been removed. Several other busts remain in the room but the absence of Confederate iconography was notable.
Filler-Corn said having so many Confederate symbols present in the State Capitol sends the wrong message to visitors.
“By having a whole room dedicated just to that shows everybody–kids, schools, people from all over the world that come to Virginia–that this is what we stand for and these are our values…and that is not accurate,” Filler-Corn said.
It’s still unclear where the statues are now and what might happen to them next. Filler-Corn didn’t specify any plans for relocation.
The statues in the Old House Chamber may not be the last to go. Filler-Corn announced the creation of an advisory group on Friday whose job it will be to look into artifacts under House control for potential removal. The Speaker said there is no timeline for the group’s recommendations yet.
Filler-Corn’s decision drew praise from members of her own party but Republicans argued it’s wrong to erase history, especially in a place where history was made.
“We need to, as Virginians, be tolerant of all sides of history. I’m more interested in the truth being told than political correctness, which is what we have here,” said Sen. Amanda Chase, the lone Republican currently running for governor in Virginia.
“The Speaker’s statement reaffirming her commitment to telling the whole history of the Commonwealth is perplexing,” House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert said in a statement. “Another historical reality is that the Capitol building itself served as the Confederate Capitol, a fact that should no doubt force the Speaker’s new Advisory Group to recommend that it be razed to the ground.”
Filler-Corn was also criticized for the lack of transparency surrounding the decision.
“Those who fear the scrutiny of their judgment and challenges to their authority execute consequential decisions in the dead of night,” said Senate Republican leadership in a joint statement.
Also on Friday, another step was taken towards the removal of a separate Robert E. Lee statue located in the United States Capitol in Washington D.C.
The Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol voted unanimously to recommend its removal from National Statuary Hall, where each state is entitled to two statues. The eight-member state commission, authorized by the General Assembly, will now decide upon a new historic figure to stand alongside George Washington to represent Virginia.
Del. Jeion Ward (D-Hampton) is one of those eight members.
“It was really emotional,” Ward said after the vote. “I’m so excited I don’t know what to do.”
“The Robert E. Lee statue does not tell our full and true story, and it has never represented all Virginians,” said Governor Northam in a statement. “I commend the Commission’s righteous decision to remove this relic from the halls of Congress and replace it with a new statue that embodies the inclusive Commonwealth we aspire to be.”
Ward said it could take two years before the Lee statue is actually replaced because there are still several steps left in the process, including choosing a sculptor.