Robert E Lee bronze is last of five Confederate statues to be dismantled in US city

By Shane Jarvis

The statue of General Robert E Lee, commander of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, has finally been removed after standing in Monument Avenue, Virginia, in the US, for more than 131 years.

Before a cheering crowd, the equestrian statue was hoisted down, dismantled and taken away on Wednesday (Sept 8), bringing to an end the memorials to several Civil War figures that once lined the avenue in the former capital of the Confederacy.

The move was denounced by Donald Trump, the former president, but there were no counter protests at the scene following his remarks.

Instead, there was joy as the 6m tall bronze figure was removed, signifying victory for civil rights activists who had been increasing pressure on the local authorities to have the general's statue – like those of four other Confederates – removed from public view. Until recently, their calls had gone unheeded.

Ana Edwards, a local activist, told the Associated Press agency: “It’s representative of the fact that we’re sort of peeling back the layers of injustice that black people and people of colour have experienced when governed by white supremacist policies for so long.”

The statue’s removal was ordered by Governor Ralph Northam last year in the wake of nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. The Democrat governor witnessed the statue's demise, calling the occasion “a new day, a new era in Virginia".

“Any remnant like this that glorifies the lost cause of the Civil War, it needs to come down,” he added.

However, the former president on Wednesday decried the removal of General Robert E Lee's statue, sending out a historically inaccurate statement, according to the website Politico.

Read more: Virginia to pull down statue of Confederate General Lee

“Robert E. Lee is considered by many Generals to be the greatest strategist of them all,” Mr Trump had said in his statement. “President Lincoln wanted him to command the North, in which case the war would have been over in one day. Robert E. Lee instead chose the other side because of his great love of Virginia, and except for Gettysburg, would have won the war.”

The sculpture had sat on a 12m high granite pedestal and had been placed among the other four giant Confederate statues in Monument Avenue. Those statues were removed last summer.

The work was undertaken by a company whose black executive, Devon Henry, had faced death threats for his involvement in the project to remove all five statues in Richmond. The dismantling of the bronze figure was conducted under a heavy police guard, with nearby streets sealed off. Despite the precautions, there were no counter protests and no arrests.

Other opponents of the statue's removal spoke of its artistic significance – it was sculpted by French artist Jean Antonin Mercie – and of its historical significance given Virginia’s role in the Civil War, fearing its loss would be to erase part of the country's history.

Confederate monuments in the US began to be removed after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville erupted into violence in 2017, when an extremist drove his car into a crowd of anti-supremacy protesters, killing one and injuring 35. At that time, Virginia lawmakers were hamstrung by state laws protecting "war veteran" memorials. The laws were subsequently amended, allowing locals to decide among themselves the fate of the monuments.

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