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Governor says axing monument to defeated general without public debate could create ‘needless controversy’
Virginia to begin removal process of Robert E. Lee statue pedestal, governor says
Virginia’s governor says the state will begin the process of removing an Robert E Lee statue from atop a pedestal in front of the State Capitol building in Richmond, starting with an environmental impact statement.
The state’s attorney general, Mark Herring, has called for the statue to be taken down immediately.
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“We cannot allow history to be rewritten by those who ignore its lessons,” the Virginia governor, Ralph Northam, said on Friday. “While this action should be undertaken without delay, I appreciate the Attorney General Herring’s efforts to help us gather more information in this process.”
Northam ordered removal of the statue after the governor of neighboring South Carolina, Henry McMaster, said the removal of the Confederate memorial from the statehouse grounds in Charleston should serve as a precedent. The removal of the monuments in South Carolina followed a massacre at a historic black church there by a self-identified white supremacist in June.
McMaster is trying to regain support after losing the Republican nomination for governor. His opponents have portrayed him as an architect of the Confederate heritage movement.
In an interview with NBC’s Today programme on Friday, McMaster said he had not wanted to remove the Confederate statues but said: “I have given people a conscience and I think that’s what I’ve been charged with doing.”
McMaster also said he agreed with a state Republican Party resolution calling for Confederate symbols to be removed. The resolution adopted in July was supported by Herring, who was sworn in as attorney general a few weeks later.
McMaster said the state should not be moved to “one of those that start and then stop at dead-end street”.
“We shouldn’t be stampeded into doing anything,” he said.
The Virginia statue of Lee is part of a burial plot in Richmond’s Monacan cemetery.
Northam appointed former military investigator Michael Schoonmaker to head the environmental impact analysis process for the removal. Schoonmaker, a retired naval officer, served with the Virginia National Guard until 2005.
Republican party leaders and the Sons of Confederate Veterans rejected the move to remove the monument to Lee.
“This is not the time to dig up a war grave and remove a monument that commemorates the heroes of the great war for independence,” said the group’s Virginia chapter president, Jerome Byrd.
Northam said removing the statue could create a needlessly divisive controversy and not bring “closure”.