Virginia Gov Ralph Northam orders removal of iconic Lee statue after George Floyd protests

Virginia's governor says a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee will be removed “as soon as possible” from Richmond’s Monument Avenue. 

Gov. Ralph Northam held a press conference Thursday morning to address plans for the monument. In his prepared remarks, Northam said the statue, which sits on state property, will be moved to storage while his administration works “with the community to determine its future."

RELATED: Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam to announce removal of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee statue

"In Virginia for 400 years we’ve set high ideas about freedom and equality, but we’ve fallen short of them," the governor said, referring to a history not only slavery, but also Jim Crow laws.

The statues on Monument Avenue are among the most prominent collection of tributes to the Confederacy in the nation.

Virginia has more Confederate memorials than any state in the U.S.

“You see, in Virginia, we no longer preach a false version of history. One that pretends the Civil War was about ‘state rights’ and not the evils of slavery. No one believes that any longer,” Northam said.

The statue, which sits on state property, will move to storage while Northam's administration works “with the community to determine its future,” the governor said at a news conference where the announcement was met with extended applause.

The decision came a day after Richmond's mayor, Levar Stoney, announced he will seek to remove the other four Confederate statues along Monument Avenue, a prestigious residential street and National Historic Landmark district.

Together, the decisions mark a striking departure from recent years when even after a violent rally of white supremacists descended on Charlottesville in 2017 and other Confederate monuments started falling around the country, Virginia did not make the same changes.

In part, local governments were hamstrung by a state law that protects memorials to war veterans.

That law was amended earlier this year by the new Democratic majority at the statehouse and signed by Northam. When the changes go into effect July 1, localities will be able to decide the monuments' fate.

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Northam was joined by a number of community leaders and speakers - including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Rev. Rob Lee, a descendant of the famous Confederate general.

Both applauded the governor's decision.

Northam made Thursday's decision after days of angry protests in Richmond and across the country over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck while he pleaded for air.

The Associated Press contributed to this report