ACLU asks Virginia Gov. Northam to remove Robert E. Lee statue
RICHMOND, Va. — The American Civil Liberties Union is urging Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from public grounds in Richmond.
The request, according to a letter from the Virginia ACLU chapter, comes as the state’s Department of General Services considers proposed regulations for protests and demonstrations at the monument to the Confederate general.
The state is seeking to replace emergency regulations with permanent rules that cut the maximum crowd size from 5,000 to 500 and ban weapons at permitted events, CNN affiliate WRIC reported.
“If the Lee Monument were not located where it is now, there would be no need for these onerous (and, potentially, unconstitutional) regulations regarding the use of the grounds surrounding it,” the ACLU said in a statement.
The organization called on the governor to use his executive power to remove the monument from state property.
“We urge the Governor to show his commitment to racial equity by taking action immediately to remove this towering racist symbol from Richmond’s Monument Avenue,” the ACLU statement said. “Among other possibilities, he might want to consider donating it to the Appomattox Court House National Historical Park which memorializes Lee’s surrender of his 28,000 Confederate troops and the end of the American Civil War and would provide appropriate historical context for the statute’s display.”
Relocating the monument, the ACLU said, would relieve the government of the risks of protests while protecting free speech.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for a comment on the ACLU request.
Virginia has recently been at the center of conversations about racial equality and freedom of speech.
In 2017, a “Unite the Right” rally and counterprotest in Charlottesville, Virginia turned violent when a man drove into the crowd of counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer.
Then in February, Northam became embroiled in a scandal over a photo on his medical school yearbook page of a man in blackface and another in a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam originally admitted to being in the photo, but then said he was not. The governor has said he did wear blackface once to impersonate Michael Jackson at a dance contest.
First lady of Virginia Pam Northam also came under fire last month. The mother of a child on a group tour of the governor’s mansion accused Pam Northam of handing cotton to African-American children and asking them to imagine themselves being slaves in the fields.
Pam Northam said in a statement that she regretted causing anyone anguish, adding that the slave cottage tour provided key context to the governor’s mansion tours, and that she had conducted the same tour for all visitors.
The Washington Post reported on Monday that several students on the tour told the outlet that Pam Northam “did not focus on black students” when handing out the cotton.