Virginia lawmakers vote to remove segregationist’s statue

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A statue of segregationist Harry F. Byrd Sr., who served as Virginia’s governor and a U.S. senator, will be removed from the state capitol grounds under a bill that won bipartisan final approval from lawmakers Tuesday.

By a vote of 36-3, the Senate advanced the measure that had already cleared the House, sending it to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports it.

Byrd, a Democrat, ran the state’s most powerful political machine for decades until his death in 1966 and was considered the architect of the state’s racist “massive resistance” policy to public school integration.

“Racism and its symbols, obvious and subtle, have no place in this new Virginia decade,” Del. Jay Jones, the chief sponsor of the bill, said in a statement after the vote.

The larger-than-life statue was erected in 1976 and is located a stone’s throw from the Capitol. It depicts Byrd with a copy of the federal budget. A nearby plaque says the statue was dedicated in appreciation of Byrd’s “devotion throughout a long public career to governmental restraint and programs in the best interest of all the people of Virginia.”

The bill from Jones, who is running for attorney general, directs the state Department of General Services to remove the statue from Capitol Square and store it until the General Assembly determines what should be done with it.

During debate over the measure, Republican Sen. Jill Vogel, whose district includes the part of the state Byrd hailed from, urged her colleagues to consider his entire legacy, including his work to develop Virginia’s roads system and his influence on the state’s tradition of fiscal restraint.

“I would just ask the members of this body to look at the whole man and consider that we are each a sum of all of our parts, the good and the bad. And that Virginia has the history of good and bad,” she said, calling his advocacy for massive resistance a “great stain on his career and a great embarrassment.”

Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw fired back, saying her remarks were akin to saying: “Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how’d you enjoy the play?”

Lawmakers from both parties went on to say that a person who had such a key role in fighting to oppress Black children no longer deserves a spot of honor.

“Every time I walk past it, I think about the damage he inflicted on this Commonwealth and on the African American community we are still trying to eradicate. He does not belong on the grounds of the ultimate public park in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Let’s find somewhere else to put him,” said Sen. Jennifer McClellan, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for governor.

The vote on the Byrd statue comes amid a yearslong effort in Virginia to rethink who is honored in the state’s public spaces. Last year, in votes that hewed more closely to party lines, the new Democratic majority approved legislation to allow local governments to remove Confederate monuments.

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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