Virginia Monuments Prove to Be a Topic of Debate for Lawmakers in Richmond

Jan 31, 2020

A statue of segregationist Harry Byrd stands at Virginia's capitol.

Statues of Robert E. Lee and Harry Byrd have become flashpoints for lawmakers this year.

When freshman Republican Delegate Wendell Walker of Lynchburg introduced a bill to remove the statue of segregationist Harry Byrd from Capitol Square, the point was not to actually remove the statue. He was trying to argue that Byrd should stay, and that all the other statues should stay as well.

Reporter Michael Pope recently asked Walker, “you actually wanted to move forward with this bill to get rid of the statue even though you didn’t want to get rid of the statue?”

To which Walker replied, “I wanted to get the governor to come around and say we are not removing any statutes. So I just wanted to kind of keep that pressure out there for a while. But seeing no other bills to remove statues, then this was only the right thing to do.”

A spokeswoman for the governor says Ralph Northam wants the statue of Robert E. Lee removed from the U.S. Capitol, and he supports a bill that would make that happen. He also supports a bill introduced by Democratic Delegate Sally Hudson of Charlottesville that would give local governments the ability to remove statues, like the Lee statue in Charlottesville.

“History is always an active choice about the narrative we shape. It is always the story we chose to tell about who we are," Hudson explained. "So the bill that we have been submitting is a bill that would allow local authority over war memorials in large part because a lot of the stories that we currently tell with our war memorials are simply inaccurate.”

Walker has withdrawn his bill to get rid of the Byrd statue. The bills calling for removal of the Lee statue in the U.S. Capitol and allowing for local government control over Confederate statues; they’re still waiting for a hearing in subcommittee.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.