Washington, Dec 21 (PTI) A statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee, which many alleged was one of the last remaining symbols of the country’s racists and divisive history, was on Monday removed from the US Capitol.
Lee's statue had been one of 13 statues in the Crypt of the Capitol, representing the 13 original colonies. It had been there since 1909, as Virginia's representatives in the Capitol. Every state gets two statues.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam had requested the removal and a state commission decided that Lee was not a fitting symbol for the state.
The statue of the confederate general had stood next to the statue of George Washington at the US Capitol for 111 years. It would now be replaced with a statue of civil rights icon Barbara Johns, who protested conditions at her all-Black high school in the town of Farmville in 1951. Her court case became part of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision by the US Supreme Court.
“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Northam.
“The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia’s racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity, and inclusion,” he said.
“I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of colour represent Virginia in the US Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns’ contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did,” the Democratic governor added.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also hailed the removal of Lee's statue.
“The removal of the statue of Robert E Lee and its forthcoming replacement by a tribute to Barbara Johns, a civil rights pioneer and pride of Virginia, is welcome news. The halls of Congress are the very heart of our Democracy, and the statues within the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans,” Pelosi said.
On December 16, Virginia selected civil rights icon Johns to replace Lee's statue, after receiving public input from Virginia residents during several virtual public hearings.
In 1951, sixteen-year-old Johns led a student walkout at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, protesting the overcrowded and inferior conditions of the all-Black school compared to those of White students at nearby Farmville High School.
This garnered the support of NAACP lawyers Spottswood Robinson and Oliver Hill who took up her cause and filed a lawsuit that would later become one of five cases reviewed by the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka when it declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954. Historians consider Johns’ protest a pivotal moment that launched the desegregation movement in America.
Pelosi said that the Congress will continue its work to rid the Capitol of homages to hate, as they fight to end the scourge of racism in the country. “There is no room for celebrating the bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place of honor in our country,” she said.
Pelosi said that in his first term as House Speaker, under the leadership of Democrats in Congress, she relocated Lee's statue out of a place of honour in National Statuary Hall, where a statue of Rosa Parks now proudly stands.
“And it is why we have worked to remove other symbols of hate in the Capitol and across our country, including by passing legislation this summer to remove statues of Confederate officials and other representatives of bigotry from the Capitol and by beginning the process of renaming military bases and infrastructure named after Confederate leaders through this year’s National Defence Authorisation Act,” she said. PTI LKJ PMS PMS