Plinth that once held statue of Confederate general will be removed

Time capsule believed to contain picture of Abraham Lincoln could be found as plinth that once held statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee is set to be removed by State of Virginia

  • The 40-foot concrete pedestal that once supported General Robert E. Lee’s statue will be gone by December 31, officials said Sunday 
  • The statue itself was winched away September 8, but plans to take it down began in 2020 following George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer 
  • The plinth was defaced with graffiti in May 2020 as protests over the death of Floyd continued, with messages such as ‘no more white supremacy’ 
  • Both the statue and plinth will be preserved, although it remains unclear if, or how, they’ll be displayed again in the future  
  • It’s possible that a 1887 time capsule believed to have been buried under the statue will be recovered when the plinth is removed
  • Officials in September called off the search for the capsule – which was said to contain a picture of Abraham Lincoln – after just 12 hours of digging 

The graffiti-covered granite plinth that once held a controversial statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee will be removed by the State of Virginia, three months after the bronze monument to Lee was removed.  

Preliminary work at the site in Richmond will begin Monday morning and the pedestal is expected to be completely removed by December 31, Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement. 

‘This land is in the middle of Richmond, and Richmonders will determine the future of this space,’ Northam said. ‘The Commonwealth will remove the pedestal and we anticipate a safe removal and a successful conclusion to this project.’

The statue the plinth supported was removed September 8 after becoming the latest Confederate statue to be toppled by the Black Lives Matter movement amid protest from some white residents who thought it should be preserved in history.

Crews will begin removing the graffiti-covered granite plinth that once held the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monday morning

The plinth was defaced with graffiti in May 2020 as protests over the death of George Floyd continued, with messages such as ‘no more white supremacy’ left in spray paint.

Both items will be preserved rather than destroyed, although a decision has not been made on if – or how – to display them in public again. 

Meanwhile, the City of Richmond will be allowed to decide what happens to the traffic circle that once held the plinth, but has yet to tease any possible plans.  

The statue itself was removed September 8 after becoming the latest Confederate monument to be toppled by the Black Lives Matter movement amid protest from white residents who thought it should be preserved in history.

As the 12-ton bronze monument – America’s largest Confederate statue – that stood on it was winched away last fall, BLM supporters cheered and sang ‘Na Na Hey Hey’.

The 40ft concrete pedestal remained in place while officials decided what to do with it.

Once the pedestal has been removed, it will be disassembled and stored until ‘next steps have been determined,’ the release said.

It’s possible that a 1887 time capsule believed to have been buried under the statue will be recovered when the plinth is removed. 

The plinth was defaced with graffiti in May 2020 as protests over the death of George Floyd continued

Officials in September called off the search for the capsule – which was said to contain a picture of Abraham Lincoln – after just 12 hours of digging. 

Crews removed up to 8,000 pounds of granite blocks from the base of the 40-foot-high concrete pedestal on September 9 in search of the copper box filled with Civil War relics before an aide for Northam called it a night and said the search was over.

‘After a long hard day, it’s clear the time capsule won’t be found — and Virginia is done with lost causes,’ chief communications officer for the governor Grant Neely told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. ‘The search for this moldy Confederate box is over. We’re moving on.’ 

Devon Henry (pictured) looks on as crews worked to retrieve the 134-year-old time capsule on September 9, hours before the search ended

Crews attempted to locate a time capsule said to be buried in the base of the Lee statue

Many were excited to unveil the contents of the ‘moldy Confederate box’ which is believed to be a copper capsule from 1887 that contained a silver dollar and relics from the Civil War including Confederate buttons.

A newspaper article from 1887 says that it also contained a photograph of ‘Lincoln lying in his coffin’ that was donated by Miss Pattie Leake, a school principal from a prominent Richmond family.

Library records indicated 37 local residents and businesses contributed about 60 objected related to the Confederacy to the historic cache.

Historians are dubious about whether it is an actual photograph of Lincoln in his coffin or a sketch or print of him lying in state.

Dale Brumfield, a local author and historian who studied the capsule’s history, was disheartened by the end of the search and suspected it was being hidden, the Times-Dispatch reported.

‘It’s here somewhere,’ Brumfield said. ‘Why the secrecy? Why bury it? It doesn’t make any sense.’ 

A new capsule was placed in the pedestals’ corner stone filled with 2021 artifacts including an expired COVID-vaccine, photos from Stop Asian Hate protests, BLM stickers and a ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ Pride badge.

The new capsule contains 39 items that were proposed by residents of the city and selected by a group that included the state’s First Lady Pamela Northam.

The 2021 time capsule includes a You Are Not Alone flyer found in the street after a George Floyd protest last year, a COVID mask worn by Virginia’s First Lady Pam Northam, photos from a Stop Asian Hate protest, a Virginia is for Lovers sticker, a hand painted gourd rattle that was a gift from the Mattiponi and Pamunkey nations, a hip hop album

They include a photograph of a black ballerina dancing in front of the vandalized statue, which was covered in graffiti last summer after the killing of George Floyd, a copy of the National Geographic ‘2020 in Pictures’ issue with a photograph of the Lee monument on the cover, and a ‘Kente cloth worn by the Commissioners of the Congressionally chartered 400 Years of African-American History Commission’.

The governor made the decision to remove the statue itself last year, 10 days after George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

The crowd reacts as the largest Confederate statue remaining the US was removed in Richmond on September 8

The pedestal that once held the statue stands empty, and will be removed by December 31

The statue was erected in 1890, 25 years after the end of the Civil War, and 20 years after Lee’s death. 

It was funded by the Lee Monument Commission, founded in 1886, which was led by Lee’s nephew, former Virginia Governor Fitzhugh Lee. 

In a statement after it was removed, Gov. Ralph Northam said: ‘This was a long time coming, part of the healing process so Virginia can move forward and be a welcoming state with inclusiveness and diversity’. 

The plinth will be put into storage until a permanent plan for it is established, a spokesperson for governor-elect Glenn Youngkin told the Washington Post. 

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam watches the Robert E. Lee statue being removed on September 8. He ordered the statue’s removal last summer after George Floyd’s death 

 After the statue was taken down last fall, former president Donald Trump was among those to condemn ‘the desecration’ of the monument. He claimed the general would have led folks to victory in Afghanistan.

‘Our culture is being destroyed and our history and heritage, both good and bad, are being extinguished by the radical left, and we can’t let that happen,’ said Trump in an emailed statement.

‘If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago.

‘What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don’t have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!’

General and slave owner Robert E. Lee – hero of the Confederate Army who became an icon for alt-right

Robert E. Lee was a decorated general and slave-owner who led the Confederate Army in some of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. 

He joined the army in 1825, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1829 and was the son of a Revolutionary War hero. 

Lee first saw action with the American military in Mexico in 1846. He later served as major general of Virginia’s state forces. 

During the Civil War, he led the Confederate side in the battles of Gettysburg and Antietam before surrendering to Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House in Virginia on April 9, 1865. 

He was a decorated war hero but a prolific slave owner, who punished the slaves he’d inherited by lashing them.   

In 1859, Lee severely punished three slaves – Wesley Norris, his sister Mary, and a cousin of theirs – after they tried to escape the plantation. A newspaper at the time claimed Lee had them whipped once they were captured and returned to Virginia. 

Mary received 20 lashes while the two men received 50 before the pair were sent to work on railroads in Virginia and Alabama. 

Many of the 200 slaves he had inherited were either sold to traders or jailed by Lee and by 1860, only one family remained intact.  

He is believed to have told his son in 1868:  ‘You will never prosper with the blacks, and it is abhorrent to a reflecting mind to be supporting and cherishing those who are plotting and working for your injury, and all of whose sympathies and associations are antagonistic to yours.’ 

After the Civil War, Lee resisted efforts to build Confederate monuments in his honor and instead wanted the nation to move on from the Civil War.

After his death, Southerners adopted ‘The Lost Cause’ revisionist narrative about the Civil War and placed Lee as its central figure. The Last Cause argued the South knew it was fighting a losing war and decided to fight it anyway on principle. It also tried to argue that the war was not about slavery but high constitutional ideals.

As The Lost Cause narrative grew in popularity, proponents pushed to memorialize Lee, ignoring his deficiencies as a general and his role as a slave owner. Lee monuments went up in the 1920s just as the Ku Klux Klan was experiencing a resurgence and new Jim Crow segregation laws were adopted.

The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, went up in 1924. A year later, the U.S. Congress voted to use federal funds to restore the Lee mansion in the Arlington National Cemetery.

The U.S. Mint issued a coin in his honor, and Lee has been on five postage stamps. No other Union figure besides President Abraham Lincoln has similar honors. 

A generation after the civil rights movement, black and Latino residents began pressuring elected officials to dismantle Lee and other Confederate memorials in places like New Orleans, Houston and South Carolina. 

The removals partly were based on violent acts committed white supremacists using Confederate imagery and historians questioning the legitimacy of The Lost Cause.

A Gen. Robert E. Lee statue was removed from Lee Circle in New Orleans as the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote.

The Houston Independent School District also voted in 2016 to rename Robert E. Lee High School, a school with a large Latino population, as Margaret Long Wisdom High School.

The Charlottesville, Virginia, City Council voted to remove its Lee statue from a city park, sparking a lawsuit from opponents of the move. The debate also drew opposition from white supremacists and neo-Nazis who revered Lee and the Confederacy. The statue in Charlottesville came down in July.  

Some of Lee’s descendants supported the removal of the statue. 

Last summer, his great-great-great nephew told ABC News: ‘This is a no brainer. 

‘This is an issue of justice and of peace. [If] we want peace in our time and the ability to [have] equality … we must do that by addressing the monuments not only in stone and in bronze, but elsewhere as well.’ 

Reverend Robert Lee IV, the fourth great nephew of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, said the removal of confederate symbols was ‘a no brainer’ amid demands for statues of pro-slavery figures to be taken down

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