RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)-The removal of the 40-foot pedestal that was once home to Richmond’s statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee started on Monday.
The Lee statue was taken down in September at the direction of Gov. Ralph Northam but the fate of its granite base was unknown until Sunday. Northam’s announcement comes just over a month before he leaves office.
Northam said in an interview on Monday that the transition to Republican leadership didn’t influence the timing of this decision or the choice to donate the site of the statue to the City of Richmond.
“No. This is something I think is in the best interest of Virginia and certainly in the best interest of Richmond. We have embraced diversity in this Commonwealth,” Northam said. “This was something that I intended to complete during my term as governor and so we made that decision recently after a lot of discussion with the City of Richmond.”
Alena Yarmosky, a spokesperson for Northam, said Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin would’ve had the authority to put the Lee statue back up if he wanted to.
Youngkin declined to comment further on Northam’s choice to remove the pedestal. A spokesperson for the Governor-elect referred back to his statement from September, shortly after the Virginia Supreme Court paved the way for the statue’s removal.
“The Supreme Court in fact has ruled on this and the statue is going to come down and I hope they move it to a battlefield or a museum so we don’t lose the fact that we have a history and we all need to know it,” Youngkin said.
The removal of the pedestal, which became a symbol of racial reckoning during last year’s protests, is expected to be largely done by the end of December. After that, the pedestal will join the Lee statue in storage as Richmonders determine next steps.
Northam said, “We’ll be reaching out to folks in the community and saying, ‘what do you want Monument Avenue to represent? What do you want it to look like?'”
Meanwhile, it’s still unclear if new Republican leadership will want to restore Confederate iconography in other contexts, such as the State Capitol.
Garren Shipley, a spokesperson for the next GOP House Speaker Todd Gilbert, said they’ve yet to discuss whether nine Confederate symbols removed from the Old House Chamber should be put back, including a statue of Lee. Democratic House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn previously said she had the authority to order their removal without any prior notice to the public.
Youngkin’s team didn’t respond when asked if he would support that step.