Virginia Switches Out Capitol Statue of Robert E. Lee

A 16-year-old civil rights leader will be honored instead of the Confederate general
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 21, 2020 6:30 PM CST
Virginia Switches Out Capitol Statue of Robert E. Lee
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, just before being removed from the US Capitol on Monday.   (Jack Mayer/Office of Governor of Virginia, File)

For 111 years, Robert E. Lee has held a place of honor in the US Capitol's Statuary Hall, next to George Washington. But "Confederate images do not represent who we are in Virginia," said a state legislator who led a commission that urged removing Lee's statue. Each state contributes two statues to the Capitol, NBC reports, and Virginia has decided to make a change. The Confederate general's statue will be taken to the Virginia Museum of History and Culture in Richmond, per the Hill. "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," Gov. Ralph Northam said in a statement. "I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the US Capitol."

That young woman replacing Lee is Barbara Johns. As a 16-year-old, she led a student strike calling for equality in education at a high school in Farmville, Virginia, in 1951. The case was folded into the landmark Brown v. Board of Education lawsuit in which the Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. "It's time for us to start singing the songs of some of the Virginians who have done great things that have gone unnoticed," said another state lawmaker. Capitol visitors "will learn about Barbara Johns’ contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities just like she did," Northam said. Johns' act of courage and imagination took place four years before the bus boycott in Alabama, a Washington Post editorial points out, and nine years before the lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina. (Another statue of a Confederate general is out in Virginia.)

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