More than a century after the Battle of Appomattox Court House, Virginia witnessed another surrender by the Confederate general Robert E. Lee.
Crews assembled early Wednesday morning to remove a 12-ton statue of Lee from its pedestal in Richmond, Virginia, once the capital of the Confederacy. As cranes lifted the statue in the air, the crowd that gathered to watch cheered and bid the figure farewell, singing “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
The statue, which depicts Lee seated on a horse, was first installed in 1890 and stands about six stories tall on the city’s Monument Avenue. The statue has been the subject of massive controversy as one of the country’s largest monuments to the Confederacy and the site of countless demonstrations for racial justice.
Governor Ralph Northam ordered the removal of the statue back in June 2020, not long after the murder of George Floyd, saying at the time, “A pedestal is a place of honor. We put things on pedestals when we want people to look up.”
The decision was held up for months by multiple legal challenges. However, Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of the statue’s removal last week, allowing the process to move forward.
“The public monuments reflect the story we choose to tell about who we are as a people. It is time to display history as history, and use the public memorials to honor the full and inclusive truth of who we are today and in the future,” Northam said in a statement following the removal.
Northam said the Lee statue will be put in “secure storage at a state facility” until a decision is made about its permanent relocation.
On Wednesday night, former President Donald Trump weighed in on the removal of the “magnificent and very famous” statue in a statement that appeared to suggest he was rooting for the Confederacy to have come out on top. He claims Lee “chose the other side because of his great love of Virginia, and except for Gettysburg, would have won the war.” Trump also described the rebel leader fighting to uphold slavery as a “unifying force,” adding that if the general whose surrender effectively ended the Civil War were to have led U.S. forces in Afghanistan, “that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago.”
This post has been updated to include former President Trump’s statement on the statue’s removal.