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Norfolk lawmaker to propose removing Byrd statue from Capitol Square

Norfolk lawmaker to propose removing Byrd statue from Capitol Square

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The Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue isn’t the only state-owned memorial that could soon come down.

Del. Jay Jones, D-Norfolk, said Thursday that he would introduce legislation for the 2021 General Assembly session to take down the statue of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Harry F. Byrd Sr. from Capitol Square. Byrd, a Democrat, was one of the most vocal proponents of segregation.

“That statue is also a symbol of hate and oppression in a bygone era that characterizes black people in Virginia as less than and sought to dehumanize us and institutionalize us as beneath white people,” Jones, who is exploring a run for attorney general next year, said in an interview. “It’s beyond time for that to be removed because that’s not a symbol of who we are as a state.”

The statue, in the northwest corner of Capitol Square, was erected in 1976, 10 years after Byrd’s death, and was paid for with private money. It sought to honor Byrd, who served as governor of the state from 1926 to 1930 and as a U.S. senator from 1933 to 1965.

A Republican lawmaker, Del. Wendell Walker of Lynchburg, introduced a similar measure this year in an attempted political jab at Democrats, but had it withdrawn.

The General Assembly included $50,000 in next year’s budget for the “development of interpretive signs” regarding Massive Resistance, which Byrd helped lead, to put beside Byrd’s statue.

Inside the state Capitol, there are other shrines to the Confederacy.

A statue of Lee stands in the room where the House once met, which is used now as a largely ceremonial room for tours. Also in Capitol Square are statues of Stonewall Jackson, Confederate surgeon Hunter Holmes McGuire and William “Extra Billy” Smith, a Confederate major general who served two terms as governor.

At the U.S. Capitol, another statue honoring Lee is in the National Statuary Hall collection. Gov. Ralph Northam signed legislation in April to create a commission tasked with recommending a replacement statue.

Virginia gave the statue of the Confederate general to the collection in 1909. Virginia’s other statue in the collection is of George Washington.

The eight-person panel has until Dec. 1 to issue its report.

jmattingly@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

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