By Alexandra Zernik
Tuesday marked the 154th anniversary of the Confederate Army surrendering to the Union on April 9, 1865. The American Civil Liberties Union used the event, which ended the Civil War, as another call for action: to remove the Monument Avenue statue honoring Robert E. Lee.
Lee was the commander of the Confederate Army and the man who signed the surrender at the Appomattox Court House more than a century and a half ago. He is memorialized at the center of the roundabout at Monument and North Allen avenues in Richmond.
There have been numerous attempts to remove the statue or move it to a museum or other location that critics deem more appropriate.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has said he wants to take down the statues of Lee and other Confederate figures on Monument Avenue. But under state law, local governments do not have authority over such monuments.
Protests, demonstrations, and rallies have taken place at the Lee statue. The monument has also been vandalized multiple times.
In an “emergency” response to such events, the Virginia Department of General Services has attempted to regulate demonstrations at the monuments. The Virginia branch of the ACLU is challenging those regulations as unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, the ACLU issued a statement calling on the public to urge Gov. Ralph Northam to take action and move the monument.
“The answer to the problem of how to balance public safety and the right to free expression at this public forum is not to enact burdensome, illegal regulations,” the group said.
ACLU officials said the Lee statue, which was erected in 1890, is a Jim Crow-era symbol of racism and oppression.
Northam could use his executive authority to remove the statue from Monument Avenue, the ACLU said.
“The Lee Monument is a state-property island in the middle of Richmond, and if Gov. Northam is committed to racial equity, he should immediately remove this towering racist symbol,” the organization said.