The people deserve the right to decide the fate of the Lee monument pedestal
12/16/2021, 6 p.m.
Re “On the way out: Gov. Ralph S. Northam orders removal of 40-foot granite pedestal that held Confederate Robert E. Lee’s statue on Monument Avenue, and for the land to be turned over to the city,” Dec. 9-11 edition:
It was right for Gov. Ralph S. Northam to cede the state- owned property where the Lee statue once stood to the City of Richmond, especially considering the danger that the incoming administration of Gov.-elect Glenn A. Youngkin might take steps to undo the dramatic progress made at that site.
But there is no reason on Earth that Gov. Northam couldn’t have ceded the Lee pedestal also and so allow the community an opportunity to weigh in on its future.
Just as the Lee statue represented the re-establishment of white-supremacist rule following the overturn of Reconstruction, the magnificently tagged pedestal represented the victory of the 2020 anti-racist upsurge that forced a racial reckoning over a broad range of issues, including Richmond’s Confederate- honoring statues.
And yes, maintaining the graffiti-covered pedestal would require the city to provide protection against those who might physically attack it, just as for 130 years protection was provided for the Lee monument.
While running for governor in 2017, candidate Northam pledged to remove the Lee statue. Once in office, he did nothing for years. Mayor Levar M. Stoney began by telling his Monument Avenue Commission that it couldn’t even consider recommending taking down the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue.
No, it wasn’t the politicians who brought down the statues. It was the mass, protracted, anti-racist upsurge of 2020.
Gov. Northam didn’t have the right to decide the fate of the Lee pedestal. Neither did Mayor Stoney. Only the community has the right to determine the future of the Lee pedestal, the other Confederate pedestals and the future of Monument Avenue. It has earned that right through real struggle and real sacrifice. And no matter what the politicians do, the struggle for racial justice will continue and will ultimately be successful.
Gov. Northam should take courage from that mass determination and halt the removal of the pedestal.
The writer is a co-founder of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality, which has been opposing the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue since Jan. 19, 2007, the 200th birthday of Robert E. Lee.