The huge statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia—one of the biggest Confederate monuments in the nation and one in the heart of the former capital of the Confederacy—has been removed from its pedestal.
The 21-foot-tall bronze statue of the Civil War leader on horseback was lowered to the ground early Wednesday, 131 years after it was first erected. Photographs showed a crane alongside the statue as workers began its long-awaited dismantling before it was brought down to earth.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam first announced plans for its removal in June 2020—days after the murder of George Floyd—but the efforts were held up by multiple legal challenges to the removal. Shortly before work began, Northam reportedly said in a statement: “This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth.”
Early Wednesday, Northam posted a livestream of the event that showed crowds gathering to celebrate the statue’s removal. Cheers erupted when the bronze sculpture was lifted into the sky, with members of the public shouting “Black Lives Matter!” and “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Speaking next to the removed statue, Northam said: “This has been a long time coming. It’s part of the healing process for Virginia to move forward and embrace diversity, to be a welcoming state, to be inclusive, and to let people know that our lights are on and our doors are open.”
The governor added: “I want to thank the city of Richmond, the people of Richmond, and people all across the Commonwealth for doing the right thing after 402 years of this history we should not be proud of.”
Dena Potter, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of General Services, told the Associated Press that the statue will be sliced into two pieces to make the removal job easier. Northam has previously said that a public consultation will help decide future plans for the statue.
Last summer, the Lee statue became the focal point of racial justice protests following Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. The statue’s pedestal, which remains covered in artwork painted by racial justice protesters, will remain in place for the time being.