Sept. 8 (UPI) — A 12-ton statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee — which has stood on Monument Square in Richmond, Va., for more than a century — was taken down Wednesday and cut into pieces in front of a cheering crowd.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said removing the statue was a “step in the right direction” and should allow for Virginians to “fully tell” the history of the state.
Richmond was the capital of the Confederate States of America during the secession of the Southern states and through much of the Civil War.
“Lee fought on the wrong side, he fought to keep my ancestors in chains,” retired U.S. Army veteran and Richmond resident Lamont Rigs said, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This is glorious.”
Activists said in recent years that the statue was a symbol of white supremacy and slave ownership. Last year after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and the civil rights movement that followed, calls increased for its removal and Northam vowed to take it down.
Wednesday, authorities closed off roads around the monument and limited parking and pedestrian access during the removal of the statue. A crowd of hundreds showed up for the event and most cheered when it came down and workers began cutting it into pieces.
“This city belongs to all of us, not just some of us,” David Bailey, whose non-profit organization Arrabon conducts racial reconciliation work, told The New York Times. “Now we can try to figure out what’s next. We are creating a new legacy.”
Workers said they used a power saw to cut the statue so that it can be transported for storage.
“It won’t transport in this height, so we need to lift the rider off the horse and transport it that way,” contractor David Henry said, according to the Times-Dispatch.
Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court cleared the way for the statue’s removal by ruling that Northam has the proper authority. A group supporting the statue had argued that taking it down required the action of the state legislature.