The fate of monuments dedicated to Confederate generals has been under intense scrutiny across the country in recent years.
As one recent example, a prominent statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee stood in the capital city of Richmond, Virginia, for more than a century prior to a recent court ruling that paves the way for it to be taken down.
Supreme Court rules on divisive issue
The monument depicting the Confederate general on a horse has been at the center of a cultural dispute for years, with public demands for its removal reaching a fever pitch in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death and related protests last year.
Richmond, which was one of the capitals of the Confederacy, has displayed the statue since it was created by a French artist in the late 19th century.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam sought to remove it within days of Floyd’s death as vandals covered it with graffiti.
A little more than a year later, the Virginia Supreme Court determined that the statue is emblematic of white supremacy that no longer represents the state’s values.
Among those on the other side of the debate is a descendant of the signers of the original deed for the monument, who noted that Virginia vowed at the time to “faithfully guard” the statue.
An uncertain future
Nearby property owners cited an 1889 joint resolution of the Virginia General Assembly that promised to keep the monument.
The unanimous court decision, however, found that those obligations are now moot since upholding them would require the government to express beliefs it currently rejects.
“Those restrictive covenants are unenforceable as contrary to public policy and for being unreasonable because their effect is to compel government speech, by forcing the Commonwealth to express, in perpetuity, a message with which it now disagrees,” the ruling affirmed.
As it stands, the fate of the 21-foot Lee statue remains uncertain. The state has expressed a desire to repurpose its 40-foot pedestal.
Beyond Confederate leaders like Lee, the debate over historical monuments has also led to calls for statues of presidents and even founding fathers to come down. Today, it is Lee. Will Lincoln be next?