Gov. Ralph Northam’s office said Monday that he will push for legislation replacing Virginia’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee housed in the United States Capitol.
The governor filed a drafting request for a bill that would outline the process for removing the statue — one of Virginia’s two in the National Statuary Hall Collection — and selecting a replacement, Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said. The disclosure from Northam’s office came in response to questions about a letter from two Democratic members of Congress that called on Northam to make replacing the statue part of his agenda for the legislative session that begins next month.
“As Virginians, we have a responsibility to not only learn from but also confront our history,” U.S. Reps. Jennifer Wexton and A. Donald McEachin wrote in a letter released Monday. “As part of this responsibility, we must strive for a more complete telling of history by raising up the voices, stories, and memories of minorities and people of color.”
Yarmosky said Northam’s office had previously discussed the issue with McEachin and Wexton’s offices “and we look forward to continuing to work with them and all others who are committed to making Virginia open, inclusive, and equitable.”
She said additional details about the legislation would be announced later.
The National Statuary Hall Collection consists of 100 statues, two each from all 50 states, that honor notable people in their history. Virginia’s other statue is of George Washington.
“Virginia’s decision to donate the statue of Lee was a part of a national effort to rewrite the history of the South’s secession and rehabilitate the image of Confederate leaders,” said a press release from Wexton’s office.
Virginia chose to add Lee back in 1909. Elsewhere in the Capitol, Mississippi added Jefferson Davis in 1931.
Wexton and McEachin’s letter mentioned a number of Virginians who “would better represent our Commonwealth in the U.S. Capitol,” including civil rights lawyer Oliver Hill and educator and orator Booker T. Washington.
The two noted that other states have recently reconsidered their representation in the collection. Florida, for instance, recently replaced its statue of Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with one of the civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune.
In 2017, Democratic lawmakers proposed a bill they called the Confederate Monument Removal Act to remove all Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.
An aide to Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said at the time that the senator supported that proposal, but was focused on other issues as well.
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