Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe has called for all of the state's public Confederate statues to be removed and relocated.
The governor said on Wednesday that he hoped residents in the state would agree the statues represent a “barrier to progress, inclusion and equality.”
“As we attempt to heal and learn from the tragic events in Charlottesville, I encourage Virginia's localities and the General Assembly -- which are vested with the legal authority -- to take down these monuments and relocate them to museums or more appropriate settings.” McAuliffe said in a statement.
McAuliffe, who called a state of emergency in Virginia in the wake of Saturday's violence, added that Charlottesville showed how monuments “that celebrate the leadership of the Confederacy” have now become a symbol of hatred and division.
The Virginia state legislature has the authority to remove the Confederate monuments. McAuliffe doesn’t have the power to act on it unilaterally.
McAuliffe made the statement after attending the memorial service Wednesday morning for 32-year old Heather Heyer, who died after 20-year-old James Alex Fields Jr. allegedly rammed a car into other vehicles in a crowd of counter-protesters on Saturday. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va, was also in attendance.
Dr. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who is backed by former president Barack Obama as a candidate to replace Gov. McAuliffe in November, also said the statues should be “moved to museums.”
“We should also do more to elevate the parts of our history that have all too often been underrepresented. That means memorializing civil rights advocates like Barbara Johns and Oliver Hill, who helped move our Commonwealth closer towards equality,” Northam said in a statement, referring to Johns, a civil rights pioneer, and Hill, the civil rights attorney who helped end the doctrine for racial segregation, “separate but equal.”
Richmond, Virginia mayor Levar Stoney also spoke out about the statues on Wednesday, urging the immediate examination of removal or relocation of some or all of the statues lining the city's Monument Avenue.
Stoney stressed that this process would allow for the “public to be heard” and for a decision to be made after “constructive dialogue.”
The mayor’s decision marks a sharp turn from his initial plan two months ago to maintain the statues but add historical context on why they were erected, according to a statement.
McAuliffe, Northam and Stoney’s push for the removal of the monuments is at odds with President Donald Trump’s comments at a press conference Tuesday, where the president sarcastically asked if statues of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s should also be taken down.
"George Washington was a slave owner. Was George Washington a slave owner? So will George Washington now lose his status? ... How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him. Good. Are we going to take down his statue? He was a major slave owner,” Trump said.
The Charlottesville city council’s decision to remove the Lee statue -- which went up in 1924 -- sparked the Unite The Right rally from white supremacists and neo-Nazis on Saturday.
Not all Virginia politicians agreed on the need to remove the statues.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Ed Gillespie called for education instead on his website.
“Rather than glorifying their objects, statues should be instructional. While ensuring that Confederate statues are not exalting them but educating about them, we should do more to elevate Virginia’s history in expanding freedom and equality by extolling the many Virginians who played critical roles in this regard,” said Gillespie.
Gillespie was joined by Republican state attorney general candidate John Adams on Twitter who cautioned that Virginians should be concerned of a government that wanted to “erase history.”
Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer supported keeping his city's Robert E. Lee statue in an interview with National Public Radio on Sunday, saying that while he respected "different opinions," he believed one of his African-American neighbor's reasoning that the statues should be there "so that [her] grandchildren know what happened there," was important to the discussion.