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Richmond, Va., Circuit Court To Decide The Future Of Confederate Gen. Lee Statue

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

On Monument Avenue in Richmond, Va., all the statues of Confederate leaders have been removed - all except one, the biggest one. The four-story tall monument of General Robert E. Lee stands there today, as it has every day since 1890. Its fate is in legal limbo, though. Today a judge heard arguments on whether to keep it or remove it but did not issue a final decision from the bench. Whittney Evans, a reporter with member station VPM, was at that hearing in Richmond today and joins us now. Hey, Whittney.

WHITTNEY EVANS, BYLINE: Hi.

KELLY: So no ruling from the bench. We're told the judge is going to issue a written opinion. Fill us in on the arguments that unfolded there today. What was it like in that courtroom?

EVANS: Yeah. So this is a complicated legal case, and that's why the judge said today that he is going to take the time to write a well-thought-out opinion rather than just rule from the bench. And I'll back up just a little bit. So in June, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced he was removing the statue as soon as possible. A few days later, a descendant of the family who gifted the statue to the state in 1890 sued the governor to stop that from happening. And the descendant argued a 19th century deed says the state promised to protect and maintain the statue and the property that it stands on. Today the state argued that this descendant doesn't have the right to just perpetually tell the state what it can and can't do with its own property. An attorney for the defendant said the deed is clear and the state made a promise that it has to keep.

KELLY: And I wonder for those of us who've never seen Monument Avenue, walked Monument Avenue, if you would paint us a little bit of a picture because I mentioned this is the last Confederate statue standing. There were a lot of others. Where are they now?

EVANS: Right. As many people know, Richmond is a former capital of the Confederacy, so there's this whole street filled with statues dedicated to Confederate leaders. But Lee, like you said, is the only one that's still standing. And it's the only one owned by the state. The city of Richmond owns all of the others. And recently Richmond's mayor unilaterally made the call to take the other monuments down, about 14 of them. And the last we heard they're under tarps outside the city's wastewater treatment plant. And, you know, meanwhile, the Monument Avenue sort of transformed into this gathering place for the community. The Lee statue used to be this sterile place where you didn't really see people gathering. And now it's covered in graffiti, and people gather there every day to play music and give out food. It's been a total transformation.

KELLY: Yeah. I've seen some of the pictures. It is utterly transformed. Well, tell me - what are we watching for next in all of this? When do we expect to hear from the judge?

EVANS: Well, it's unclear when the judge will issue this ruling. But if he does rule that the statue can come down, the state will obviously start to take steps to try to remove it, but it's not going to be an easy process. The governor's office says, you know, it's a really big project that requires bringing in different machines from out of state and even splitting the statue into thirds so it can be reassembled elsewhere. And there's not really a plan yet regarding how it will be replaced, but the governor says that, you know, he wants that decision to be a decision that the community makes.

KELLY: That is Whittney Evans of member station VPM joining us from Richmond, Va. Thanks so much.

EVANS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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