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American Civil War Museum team to witness removal of General Lee statue

Statue of General Lee covered with protest graffiti

A team of curators from The American Civil War Museum in Richmond, Virginia will monitor the removal of the six-story Confederate monument to General Robert E Lee, which will be removed today.

The moving of the imposing monument to Lee on horseback follows a unanimous ruling by Virginia Supreme Court last week that the state could remove the 131-year-old statue.

Robert Edward Lee was the commander of the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War and his statue on Monument Avenue – just a few kilometres from the museum – was erected 15 years after his forces’ surrender in 1865.

Lee’s views that black people were subordinate to whites and the fact he led an army defending the right to own slaves has resulted in years of campaigning for his statue – which now stands covered in graffiti following protests last year supporting the Black Lives Matter social movement – to be taken down.

Tremendously impactful

Dr Robert Havers, CEO of the museum, said the removal of the statue was ‘tremendously impactful’ and although the Civil War was fought 150 years ago it ‘is with us to this very day’.

He said several staff would witness the statue’s removal in person on Wednesday to document the process and hopefully recover some fragments on the day.

“We are actually sending several of our curatorial team down there to document what’s happening and see if there’s any immediate pieces we might take and bring to the museum,” he said.

Bigger discussion

“There are a couple of plaques that sit on the pedestal right now that we would like to display in the museum as part of a sort of entree to this bigger discussion about: Where did the monuments come from? Why were they put up? Why did they stay up? Why have they now in 2021 come down?”

Ralph Northam, Virginia’s governor, said the removal was ‘an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth’ and he would seek public input on the statue’s future. Once the statue is taken away, the pedestal will remain until the state and the community decide on its future.

Another act in Civil War

Richmond is the former capital of the Confederacy and Havers said: “We are witnessing another act in the Civil War with the Robert E Lee statue coming down and it’s happening in 2021 in Richmond.

“Generations of Richmonders have grown up with these statues being ever-present. Many have thought it was a great thing and many have thought it was not a great thing. They will no longer be there after tomorrow so it’s a new chapter for Richmond, undoubtedly.”

History of Monument Avenue

Colleagues at The American Civil War Museum, Richmond, the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and the Library of Virginia and Valentine Museum in Richmond have collaborated on a comprehensive website exhibition detailing the history of Monument Avenue.

Opened in 2006, The American Civil War Museum at Historic Tredegar in Richmond, surrounds the industrial ruins of Tredegar Ironworks, founded in 1837, as one of the country’s largest industrials sites before the Civil War and the largest in the Confederacy, supplying about half of the artillery for the Confederate Army.

The museum contains two galleries for exhibits and has over 500 artifacts on display. Its new permanent exhibition, A People’s Contest: Struggles for Nation and Freedom in Civil War America, features hundreds of original artifacts, dynamic theatre experiences and imagery.

The museum forms a partnership with The White House of the Confederacy and the American Civil War Museum at Appomattox, where Lee surrendered.

About the author – Adrian Murphy

Adrian is the Editor of MuseumNext and has 20 years’ experience as a journalist, half of which has been writing for the cultural sector.

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