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Robert E. Lee statue removed from US Capitol

Confederate general's image to be replaced by civil rights icon Barbara Johns, whose 1951 protest was part of Brown v. Board of Education.
Image: Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue is removed from U.S. Capitol, in Washington
Workers remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from the U.S. Capitol's crypt on Capitol Hill on Monday.Jack Mayer / Reuters
/ Source: NBC News

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee has been removed from the United States Capitol, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Monday.

For 111 years, the statue stood alongside that of the nation’s first president, George Washington, as the state of Virginia's contribution to the National Statuary Hall. Each state is allowed two statues in the collection.

Virginia plans to replace the statue of Lee with one of civil rights icon Barbara Johns.

“We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country,” said Northam in a statement. “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. I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns’ contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did.”

“Confederate images do not represent who we are in Virginia. That’s why we voted unanimously to remove this statue,” said state Sen. Louise Lucas, who chaired the Virginia commission that recommended the removal. “I am thrilled that this day has finally arrived, and I thank Governor Northam and the Commission for their transformative work.”

In 1951, 16-year-old Barbara Johns led a student strike for equal education at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia. Her protest gained the support of the NAACP and her case was one of five that were consolidated into the pivotal Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka lawsuit. The Supreme Court ruling in that case declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954.

“When I think of Barbara Johns, I am reminded of how brave she was at such a young age. It’s time for us to start singing the songs of some of the Virginians who have done great things that have gone unnoticed. This is a proud moment for our Commonwealth, and I am humbled to have been a part of it,” said Delegate Jeion Ward, who sponsored legislation creating the commission.

Sen. Tim Kaine and Rep. Jennifer Wexton, both Democrats, and a representative of Northam's office were present when the statue was removed.

In July, the House approved legislation to rid the U.S. Capitol of statues of Confederates, and other such symbols, but the Senate has yet to take the bill up.

On Monday morning, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi applauded the decision, vowing to continue ridding the Capitol of “homages to hate.”

“The removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee and its forthcoming replacement by a tribute to Barbara Johns, a civil rights pioneer and pride of Virginia, is welcome news. The halls of Congress are the very heart of our Democracy, and the statues within the Capitol should embody our highest ideals as Americans,” Pelosi said in a statement. “The Congress will continue our work to rid the Capitol of homages to hate, as we fight to end the scourge of racism in our country. There is no room for celebrating the bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place of honor in our country.”

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