Virginia to remove statue of Confederate hero Robert E. Lee on Wednesday

By Brendan O'Brien

(Reuters) - A Virginia statue of Confederate Civil War General Robert E. Lee, a focus of protests over racial injustice, is scheduled to be removed on Wednesday after a year-long legal battle over its future.

Crews are due in the morning to begin taking down the 21-foot (6.4-meter) bronze statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, a former Confederacy capital, state officials said in a statement. The figure depicts Lee in military attire atop his horse.

The statue, installed in 1890, sits on a 40-foot (12.2-meter) granite pedestal. The towering memorial is one of the largest Confederate statues still standing in the United States. Statues that honor leaders of the pro-slavery Confederate side in the American Civil War have become targets of protests against racism.

During the last six years, more than 300 symbols of the Confederacy and white supremacy have been taken down, while some 2,000 still stand, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Streets around the statue were closed on Tuesday evening as crews prepared a viewing area for the public to watch the statue removal. On Thursday, plaques will be taken down from the monument's base and a time capsule believed to be at the site will be replaced with a new one.

The base will remain in place as the community reimagines Monument Avenue. The statue will be kept in a secure state-owned storage site until a decision on its future is finalized.

Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced plans to remove the statue in June 2020, 10 days after a white Minneapolis policeman killed George Floyd, who was Black, sparking nationwide protests.

On Thursday, the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously ruled in two cases that Northam could remove the statue. In summer 2020, the removal was challenged by nearby residents and a descendant of the family that transferred ownership of the statue to the state.

(Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Chicago; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)