The Robert E. Lee statue has been removed from the National Statuary Hall in the U.S Capitol, which contains two statues of historical figures from each state. Robert E. Lee and George Washington represented the Commonwealth of Virginia in that hall until today. The former statue will be replaced by a statue of civil rights activist Barbara Johns.
The statues were provided by the state of Virginia in 1909, a mere 44 years after the end of the Civil War, according to NRP. The removal of the Robert E. Leestatue is one of many Confederate statues removed this past year as the country tries to mend its deeply racist past.
“This is a historic and long-overdue moment for our Commonwealth,”U.S Representatives Donald McEachin and Jennifer Wexton said in a joint statement. “The Robert E. Lee statue honors a legacy of division, oppression, and racism – a dark period in the history of our Commonwealth and our country.”
Virginia Governor Ralph Northman added, “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.”
Taking the place of Robert E. Lee’s statue in the National Statuary Hall will be activist Barbara Johns. Johns played a major role in desegregating schools. At just 16 years old, she led a walk-out in protest of her school’s inferior conditions. The 1951 strike at Robert Russa Moton High School, an all-Black school in Farmville, Virginia, caught the attention of the NAACP and would later play a huge role in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court Case.
“Before the sit-ins in Greensboro, before the Montgomery bus boycott, there was the student strike here in 1951, led by Barbara Johns,” Cameron Patterson, head of the Robert Russa Moton Museum, told NPR. “When the students saw what was being provided to white students in this community at Farmville High School, there was certainly a recognition that our community was not meeting the needs of the students here.”
NPR also reports that the Robert E. Lee statue will not be destroyed but repurposed. The governor’s office has reported they will be moving the statue to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond.