Virginia is a step closer to removing its Robert E. Lee statue in the U.S. Capitol after a state panel unanimously recommended on Friday replacing the tribute to the Confederate general.
The Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol, a group the General Assembly created this year, voted to take the statue down and replace it with a to-be-determined Virginian.
The move is the latest in the state’s effort to rid itself of Confederate iconography, with Virginia earning a judicial win Friday in one of the legal challenges over its plans to remove the Lee statue on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
Lee has represented Virginia at the U.S. Capitol for more than a century.
“The Robert E. Lee statue does not tell our full and true story, and it has never represented all Virginians,” Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement after the vote. “I commend the Commission’s righteous decision to remove this relic from the halls of Congress and replace it with a new statue that embodies the inclusive Commonwealth we aspire to be.”
Northam said in a news release that he will relay the decision to the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress and request the immediate removal of the statue, which stands in the National Statuary Hall Collection. Virginia’s other statue in the collection depicts George Washington.
Each state contributes two statues to the Statuary Hall Collection, which is open to visitors. Besides Lee, Confederate leaders in the collection include President Jefferson Davis (Mississippi) and Vice President Alexander H. Stephens (Georgia). Virginia tapped Lee for one of its two statues in 1909.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved legislation this week that would require states to reclaim and replace their Confederate statues at the Capitol. It’s unclear if the measure will pass the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
While Congress debates the issue, Virginia’s eight-member commission is making its recommendation, which the General Assembly could act on without congressional approval. The vote came after comments from Northam in support of the replacement and public comment. Of the 48 comments the commission received via email, 47 were in favor of removing the Lee statue.
“We can do better and we need to do better,” the governor said. “It is past time we stop honoring the Confederacy.”
Reps. Don McEachin, D-4th, and Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, who had written to Northam in December urging removal of the Lee statue from the U.S. Capitol, praised the panel’s vote on Friday.
“Today, the Commonwealth of Virginia has made it resoundingly clear that Virginia will no longer participate in perpetuating a revisionist history that is incompatible with Virginian values,” they said in a statement.
With its decision on the fate of the Lee statue clear, the commission will now debate who should replace the Confederate general. The panel is also tasked with selecting a sculptor for the new statue and recommend to the General Assembly a new location for the Lee statue.
Jim Hare, architectural historian at the Department of Historic Resources, said during Friday’s meeting that The Valentine museum in Richmond has offered to house the statue “should it be removed from the Capitol.” The commission, which has yet to consider the final disposition of the statue, will make a final recommendation to the General Assembly for where the statue, created by sculptor Edward V. Valentine, should go.
“I am pleased,” Del. Jeion Ward, D-Hampton, said regarding the decision. “Seldom will you have a unanimous vote.”
Ward carried the House of Delegates version of the bill creating the commission, which is scheduled to meet again next month.
Also Friday, U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson dismissed a lawsuit filed by a Henrico County man that sought to bar the state from removing the Lee statue on Monument Avenue.
The lawsuit contended that the state did not follow removal requirements from the National Register of Historic Places. The Lee statue is on the register. The plaintiff asked for the statue to remain and for its pedestal, which has been tagged with graffiti in recent weeks, to be cleaned.
Hudson ruled that William Davis, who represented himself in the case, did not have standing and dismissed his complaint, one of four objecting to the statue’s removal.
“Attorney General [Mark] Herring remains committed to ensuring that the Lee statue is removed from Monument Avenue,” Herring spokeswoman Charlotte Gomer said in a statement.
A Richmond Circuit Court judge is expected to issue a written ruling next week in the lone case that has resulted in an injunction barring the statue’s removal.