Leahy: Removing the Byrd Statue Is a Sign That Virginia Can Move Forward
It’s a big day in Virginia political history — one that would have been unimaginable even two or three years ago.
In Richmond’s Capitol Square Wednesday afternoon, the 10-foot-tall bronze statue of former senator Harry F. Byrd came down, along with its base and signage, moved to what the Department of General Services calls an “offsite storage location.”
It’s purely symbolic, of course. Byrd has been dead since 1966, and his formidable political machine sputtered to a halt within a few years of his demise.
But his influence over politics and politicians survived him.
It took legislative action to get the monument to the commonwealth’s last political boss and prime architect of Massive Resistance removed from its prime location near the General Assembly’s office building. The only opposition to the removal came from Republicans, some of whom have a disturbing affinity for bosses and secessionists.
Putting Byrd in a bin is the latest episode of statuary hygiene in Richmond. Protesters defaced and, in the case of Jefferson Davis, pulled down statues glorifying the Confederacy’s leaders. It was an act of defiance and rage that the Sons of Freedom, who pulled down a statue of George III in 1776 (and later used it to make bullets and guns), would have appreciated.
There’s still one, large bit of statuary on the avenue: Robert E. Lee. The ex-general’s fate is in the hands of the state supreme court. A lower court has already said the state can remove Lee.
Removing the icons of Massive Resistance, racism and secession from their perches is a sign of how much and how quickly Virginia has changed. But the change to a more inclusive commonwealth that can face its past like a grown-up has been anything but smooth. In some places, it’s getting downright nasty.