Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Virginia has taken back the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue it contributed to the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol over 100 years ago.
Workers removed the statue of the Confederate commander of the Army of Northern Virginia overnight, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced in a statement Monday.
The confederate general had stood in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol, as one of two statues each state is entitled to display since 1909, 44 years after the Confederacy rebelled against the United States and was defeated. Lee's statue stood with Virginia's other contribution to the collection, a statute of America's first president George Washington, added the same year.
"We should all be proud of this important step forward for our Commonwealth and our country," Northam said in the statement. "The Confederacy is a symbol of Virginia's racist and divisive history, and it is past time we tell our story with images of perseverance, diversity and inclusion."
Earlier this month, the state's Commission for Historical Statues in the United States Capitol selected Barbara Rose Johns to replace the statue of Lee. Johns played a pivotal role in the civil rights movement, according to historians. In 1951, at age 16, Johns, led a student walkout against inferior and overcrowded conditions in her all-Black school in Farmville, Va. Johns' case became one of five that the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed in its Brown versus Board of Education decision that declared such segregation unconstitutional three years later.
"I look forward to seeing a trailblazing young woman of color represent Virginia in the U.S. Capitol, where visitors will learn about Barbara Johns' contributions to America and be empowered to create positive change in their communities like she did," Northam said.
The commission voted unanimously in the summer to recommend removal of the Lee statue, and at the commission's request it will be moved to a Virginia museum.
"As of this morning, Virginia will no longer honor the Confederacy in the halls of the United States Capitol," Delegate Jeion Ward, who sponsored legislation creating the commission, said in a statement. "When I think of Barbara Johns, I am reminded of how brave she was at such a young age. It's time for us to start singing the songs of some of the Virginians who have done great things that have gone unnoticed. This a proud moment for our Commonwealth, and I am humbled to have been a part of it."
A statue of Johns must be approved by the General Assembly before a sculptor can be commissioned. If approved, the statue would be the only teenager represented in the Statuary Hall Collection.
Northam's proposed budget includes $500,000 to replace the statue of Lee in the U.S. Capitol.
In 2017, the Unite the Right rally, which sought to protect the statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Va., turned deadly when self-identified White supremacist James Alex Fields plowed his car into counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and injuring 35 people.
Racial justice protests to remove Confederate statues were renewed in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, while he was in police custody on suspicion of using a counterfeit bill on Memorial Day. Since then, Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter and three other officers have been charged with aiding and abetting.
Amid nationwide protests over racial justice and police brutality in June, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for the removal of 11 statues depicting Confederate soldiers, among 100 on display that were donated by the 50 states to honor their states historic contributions in the Capitol's Statuary Hall.
"The Congress will continue our work to rid the Capitol of homages to hate, as we fight to end the scourge of racism in our country," Pelosi said in a statement Monday. "There is no room for celebrating bigotry of the Confederacy in the Capitol or any other place of honor in our country."