Lee statue

Judge Indefinitely Blocks Removal of Lee Statue in Richmond

robert e lee monument richmond va
Dustin Klein/Alexis Armand

A judge has indefinitely extended an injunction preventing the Virginia governor from removing a historic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s famed Monument Avenue.

Richmond Circuit Court Judge Bradley Cavedo made the decision Thursday after hearing from attorneys for the state and for the plaintiff in a lawsuit against Gov Ralph Northam. He gave the plaintiff another 21 days to refile a new complaint. 

The 12-ton 21-foot-tall statue has stood in a prominent spot along Monument Avenue since 1890. Northam ordered its removal earlier this month, citing the pain gripping the country over the death of George Floyd. 

A Richmond judge on June 8 issued a 10-day injunction barring Northam's administration from taking down the bronze equestrian statue of the Confederate hero. At issue Thursday was whether Cavedo would extend or make permanent his injunction.

The Democratic governor recently ordered the statue’s removal, citing the pain gripping the nation over the videotaped killing of Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis who pleaded for air as a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck.

Floyd’s death has sparked global protests that participants have vowed to turn into a sustained movement focused on addressing racial injustice and police brutality. It also spurred intense re-examination of statues and monuments of historical figures around the world.

The statue is about 21 feet tall and sits on a pedestal nearly twice that high in the grassy center of a large traffic circle on Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential thoroughfare in Richmond. Now cloaked in graffiti, that and other nearby monuments have become a rallying point of more than two weeks of protests and occasional clashes with police.

The statue was unveiled before a massive crowd in May 1890, at a time when the Civil War and Reconstruction were long over, and Jim Crow racial segregation laws were on the rise.

Cavedo wrote that it was in the public interest to await the resolution of a lawsuit filed by a Virginia man described as a descendant of signatories to a 1890 deed that transferred the statue, pedestal and ground they sit on to the state. The lawsuit argues the state agreed to “faithfully guard” and “affectionately protect” them.

The plaintiff, William C. Gregory, later filed a motion seeking a permanent or extended injunction.

Attorney General Mark Herring opposes the move and has also filed court papers arguing that the case should be dismissed. Herring argued in a brief filed Tuesday that the deed does not prevent the governor from removing the statue and does not entitle Gregory to injunctive relief.

“The only question is whether a single plaintiff may call upon the equitable powers of this Court and use 130-year-old documents and inapplicable doctrines of property law to countermand the Governor’s decision. He cannot,” Herring's brief said.

The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, a National Historic Landmark district. Monuments along the avenue have been tagged with messages that say “End police brutality” and “Stop white supremacy."

Recently, protesters pulled down a century-old statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in the former capital of the Confederacy.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney last week announced plans to seek the removal of the other Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, which also include statues of Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Those statues sit on city land, unlike the Lee statue, which is on state property.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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