RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Some of Virginia’s scores of Confederate monuments could soon be removed under legislation state lawmakers approved Sunday.
The Democratic-led House and Senate passed measures that would undo an existing state law that protects the monuments and instead let local governments decide their fate. The passage marks the latest turn in Virginia’s long-running debate over how its history should be told in public spaces.
The legislation now heads to Gov. Ralph Northam, who has said he supports giving localities — several of which have already declared their intent to remove statues — control over the issue.
After white supremacists descended on Charlottesville in 2017, in part to protest the city’s attempt to move a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee, many places across the country quickly started taking Confederate monuments down. But Virginia localities that wanted to remove monuments were hamstrung by the existing law.
In the two legislative sessions that followed the rally, Republican lawmakers defeated bills like the one that passed Sunday. But Democrats recently took full control of the statehouse for the first time in a generation.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Del. Delores McQuinn of Richmond, said she feels great about letting local leaders decide what’s right for their community. But she said she thought many places would opt to keep the monuments.
“I think more of them are going to be interested in contextualizing, you know, making sure that there is a sense of truth told and shared with the public,” she said.
As for Charlottesville, city spokesman Brian Wheeler said staff would review the new legislation and determine the steps needed to carry out previous City Council votes to remove the Lee statue and another of Stonewall Jackson from its public parks.
Virginia, a state that prides itself on its pivotal role in America’s early history, is home to more than 220 public memorials to the Confederacy, according to state officials. Among those are some of the nation’s most prominent — a collection of five statues along Richmond’s Monument Avenue, a National Historic Landmark.
Critics say the monuments are offensive to African Americans because they romanticize the Confederacy and ignore its defense of slavery.
“My family has lived with the trauma of slavery for generations. … I hope that you understand that this is a situation that’s so much deeper than a simple vote on simple war memorials,” Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who presides over the Senate, said earlier in the week.