RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam’s office says he will push for legislation creating a process to replace a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in the National Statuary Hall Collection in the U.S. Capitol in Washington.
“This is something the governor and his team have been working on for several months,” said Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam. “The governor’s office has already filed a bill-drafting request for legislation addressing this topic.”
U.S. Reps. Don McEachin, D-Richmond, and Jennifer Wexton, D-Leesburg, wrote Northam a letter dated Dec. 20 asking him to make a statue to replace Lee part of his agenda for the 2020 General Assembly session that starts next month.
“As Virginians, we have a responsibility to not only learn from but also confront our history,” they wrote. “We must strive for a more complete telling of history by raising up the voice, stories and memories of minorities and people of color.”
Yarmosky said the governor’s office previously has discussed the statue with McEachin and Wexton “and we look forward to continuing to work with them and all others who are committed to making Virginia open, inclusive and equitable.”
The Lee statue in the U.S. Capitol was donated by Virginia in 1909. During that era, McEachin and Wexton said, such statues “aimed to rewrite Lee’s reputation from that of a cruel slave owner and Confederate general to portraying him as a kind man and reluctant war hero who selflessly served his home state of Virginia.”
They said the statue’s placement in the U.S. Capitol Crypt, “a prominent location that is displayed to almost every tour group that visits the U.S. Capitol,” serves as a “prevalent reminder of Virginia’s disturbing racial legacy.”
Alabama and Florida have removed statues honoring Confederate officers and Florida and Arkansas are adding statues depicting civil rights activists, the letter notes.
Wexton and McEachin suggested statues of Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion; educator Booker T. Washington; pioneering businesswoman Maggie Walker; NAACP attorney Oliver Hill; and Barbara Johns, who led a student walkout in Farmville and helped to launch the fight against school segregation, as potential replacements.
“There are countless commendable Virginians who would better represent our Commonwealth in the U.S. Capitol than a Confederate general,” they wrote. The replacement process calls for authorizing legislation to be passed by the General Assembly and signed by the governor, then communicated to the office of the Architect of the Capitol, which is responsible for the buildings and grounds on Capitol Hill, the letter says.
Northam also has said he’d sign legislation to allow Virginia localities to take down Confederate monuments.
Yarmosky said more details will be announced when the governor’s office rolls out Northam’s legislative agenda.