Flashpoint US statue of Confederate general removed in Richmond

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The base remains in place as the statue of former Confederate General Robert E. Lee is removed from Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia on September 8, 2021. (Photo: Agence France-Presse)
RICHMOND, United States — A statue of a Confederate general that became the focus of protests for racial justice was removed Wednesday in Richmond, the Virginia city that served as capital of the pro-slavery South during the American Civil War.اضافة اعلان

The bronze statue of General Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during the bloody 1861-65 conflict, was lifted off its 12-meter granite pedestal as hundreds of onlookers cheered under tight security.
"Hey, hey, goodbye," the crowd chanted as the statue was slowly lowered to the ground to be carted away on a flatbed truck.

A municipal worker on a cherry picker waved his arms and pumped his fist in the air as the statue was pried off its pedestal, which has been daubed with painted slogans such as "Black Lives Matter."

Muhammad Abdul-Rahman, a 56-year-old community organizer, was among those celebrating the taking down of the statue which has dominated Richmond's Monument Avenue for more than 100 years.

"It was designed to demonstrate, erected to say that the white man will be supreme in all aspects of life — culture, politics, economics, sports, music," Abdul-Rahman said. "And it coming down removes that stain on Virginia's history, on American history and on the history of our city."

Erected in 1890, the giant figure of Lee mounted on a horse is among hundreds of Confederate monuments in the United States that are widely considered symbols of racism.

The Lee statue became a focal point for protests following the May 2020 death of George Floyd, a Black man who was murdered by a white police officer in Minnesota. 

Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a Democrat, called its removal a "powerful moment." "A symbol of injustice and pain is removed at long last," Kaine tweeted. 

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, also a Democrat, said it was "an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth."
The governor has said the statue will go into storage and he will "work with the community to determine its future."

Mayor Levar Stoney said Richmond is a "diverse, open, and welcoming city, and our symbols need to reflect this reality."

Charlottesville violence

Tensions over the fate of another statue of Lee, in the Virginia city of Charlottesville, led to violence in August 2017 when a white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of demonstrators, killing a woman.

The protesters had gathered in opposition to white supremacists who staged a "Unite the Right" rally against plans to remove the statue.
Then-president Donald Trump came under fire when he said afterward that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the protests.

The violence in Charlottesville gave new life to a campaign to remove Confederate symbols which first gained momentum following the June 2015 murders in South Carolina of nine black churchgoers by an avowed white supremacist.

During the Civil War, the Confederate South seceded from the United States and fought to maintain slavery, which the rest of the country had abolished.
Defenders of preserving Confederate symbols have argued that the monuments serve as a reminder of a proud Southern heritage, and claim that removing them is erasing history.

According to historians, however, most of the Confederate monuments dotting the southern United States were erected during the Jim Crow era of racial segregation and in response to the civil rights movement.

Debate over what to do with Confederate symbols reached a boiling point following Floyd's death, which triggered protests across the United States and around the world against racial injustice.

The statue of Lee in Charlottesville was taken down in July of this year and the statue of another Confederate general, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, was removed from Richmond's Monument Avenue in July of last year.

The NASCAR race car franchise has banned the display of the Confederate flag at its events and four portraits of 19th century lawmakers who served in the Confederacy have been removed from the US Capitol.

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