A deed signed in 1890 that gave Virginia control of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond prevents its removal, according to a lawsuit filed Monday.
Last week, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said the state planned to remove the statue that overlooks Monument Avenue, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
However, the lawsuit filed this week led to a halt in officials’ plans to extract the monument.
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In an 18-page complaint filed Monday, William C. Gregory, the great-grandson of two signatories of the deed, argues that under the terms of the 1890 agreement and a legislature-approved resolution, the state is supposed to consider the monument and the area around it “perpetually sacred” and “faithfully guard it and affectionately protect it.”
Also on Monday, workers with Virginia’s Department of General Services inspected the massive statue to assess how they would take it down, according to the Associated Press (AP).
“The massive statue weighs approximately 12 tons, stands 21 feet tall, and has been on a 40-foot pedestal for 130 years,” the agency said, adding, “Meticulous planning is required to remove an aging monument of this size and scale safely.”
Just hours after Gregory filed the lawsuit, Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley B. Cavedo granted a ten-day injunction to temporarily prevent it from being removed.
The lawsuit also claimed that graffiti sprayed on the monument by protesters happened “in large part” due to officials’ “failure to guard and protect the Lee Monument as required by the Deed and Joint Resolution, and carry out their official responsibilities.”
In reference to the monument, Northam said Thursday that people put things on pedestals when they wanted others to look up.
“Think about the message that this sends to people coming from around the world to visit the capital city of one of the largest states in our country. Or to young children,” he commented.
However, Gregory disagreed with the governor’s decision and said the statue’s removal would cause “irreparable harm” because his family had taken pride in the statue for the past 130 years.
However, Northam stated at a news conference Tuesday that he was committed to his decision, according to the Times-Dispatch.
“This is a statue that is divisive. It needs to come down and we are on very legal solid grounds to have it taken down,” he concluded.