A new day
9/9/2021, 6 p.m.
The six-story statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, which stood as a towering symbol of white supremacy over Richmond and the South since 1890, is down.
Just minutes before 9 a.m. Wednesday, crews lifted the 12-ton bronze statue from its granite pedestal to the cheers of the crowd watching from Monument Avenue and brought it down to the ground.
But no matter how many straps, cranes, heavy equipment or even dynamite is used to remove these monuments to racism across the South, they will never erase the generations of abuse, mistreatment and inhumanity perpetrated on Black people who were brought to this country 402 years ago in slavery and who were kept enslaved until Confederate insurrectionists were subdued after a bloody four-year Civil War.
Even after Confederate forces were brought under control, their hateful will was never vanquished. Southerners, including the United Daughters of the Confederacy, spun a false narrative of the war being a means to protect the noble way of life of the South. And with a weak federal government after the death of President Abraham Lincoln, Southerners – including Virginians – continued their system of oppression of Black people through intimidation (the rise of the Ku Klux Klan) and enactment of racist laws (Jim Crow).
And they erected statues along Monument Avenue and across the South to their vanquished traitors who had picked up arms and fought against the United States in order to keep Black people in bondage. The Lee statue on Monument Avenue was the iconic tangible, visual signal that Richmond was still the Capital of the Confederacy and that Black people would remain subjugated “in their place” for perpetuity.
While many Black Richmonders have ignored the statue of Lee and the four other Confederate monuments that were taken down in June 2020 from the widely traveled, tree-lined boulevard, Wednesday’s removal of the Lee behemoth has brought a deep sense of relief—not thought but felt—that at least some of the chains of the past have finally been broken.
“I’m free,” some people in the crowd shouted. “I’m free.”
But it doesn’t free us as individuals or our elected officials from honestly dealing with the past and taking appropriate actions through reparations and changes in laws, policy and practices in education, health care, employment, lending, criminal justice and other areas to ameliorate the generational harm done.
Our hope is that with the Lee statue coming down, Richmond has now freed itself of its ingrained and crippling identity as the former Capital of the Confederacy, and that we can move on to build a city and state that recognizes and rewards the talents and contributions of all its residents fairly and equally, without regard to skin color or national origin, and lifts up those who for whatever reason have fallen behind.
Nothing can change the past, but we can build toward a better, more just and equitable future. On Wednesday, we took the first step. Let’s see how far we can go.