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Virginia lawmakers urge governor to replace Robert E. Lee statue on Capitol Hill

By Darryl Coote
Virginia lawmakers urge governor to replace Robert E. Lee statue on Capitol Hill
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was donated by the state of Virginia to the National Statuary Hall Collection in 1909. Photo courtesy of Architect of the Capitol/Flickr

Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Two Democratic Virginia lawmakers have called on Gov. Ralph Northam to replace the state's statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee housed in the U.S. Capitol.

Reps. Jennifer Wexton and Donald McEachin urged Northam in a letter Monday to include the replacement of the statue as part of his agenda for the 2020 legislative session as it "serves as a prevalent reminder of Virginia's disturbing racial legacy."

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To honor notable persons in their history, each state donates two statues to the National Statuary Hall Collection in Washington, D.C., with George Washington and Lee representing Virginia.

Northam spokesman Alena Yarmosky said in a statement to The Washington Post that the Democratic governor was in support of the idea and planned to file a bill on the matter in next year's General Assembly.

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"This is something the governor has long wanted to do -- he is looking forward to working with the congressional delegation and members of the General Assembly to get it done this year," the statement said.

Virginia donated the statue to the collection in 1909. The lawmakers said between 1900 and 1930, dozens of Confederate monuments were erected nationwide as part of an effort to rewrite the South's history.

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"These statues aimed to rewrite Lee's reputation from that of a cruel slave owner and Confederate General to portraying him as a kind man and reluctant war hero who selflessly served his home state of Virginia," the pair wrote.

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The lawmakers said "countless commendable Virginians who would better represent our Commonwealth in the U.S. Capitol than a Confederate general," including Nat Turner, who led a slave rebellion in the state; Oliver Hill and Barbara Johns, who fought for equality in education' and emancipated slave, educator and presidential adviser Booker T. Washington.

"As Virginians, we have a responsibility to not only learn from but also confront our history," they wrote. "As part of this responsibility, we must strive for a more complete telling of history by raising up the voice, stories and memories of minorities and people of color."

Alabama and Florida have both removed statues honoring Confederate military officials, they said.

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For Virginia to replace its statue of Lee, legislature would have to be passed by the state's General Assembly and signed by the governor into law.

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