West Point to remove Robert E. Lee portrait, bust

West Point over its holiday break will remove a portrait of Robert E. Lee in Confederate uniform as well as a bust of the general from prominent spots on campus, carrying out directives that were included in a defense authorization bill for 2021.

Lt. Gen. Steven W. Gilland announced these steps and more in a letter to the West Point community posted on the military academy’s web site.

“During the holiday break, we will begin a multi-phased process, in accordance with Department of Defense (DoD) directives, to remove, rename or modify assets and real property at the United States Military Academy (USMA) and West Point installation that commemorate or memorialize the Confederacy or those who voluntarily served with the Confederacy,” Gilland wrote.

The changes come after demands to remove Confederate statues, busts and portraits gained steam following George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis in the summer of 2020.

Statues of Lee, the general who led the South in the Civil War, have been at the forefront of the effort. At the end of 2020, a statue of Lee was removed from the U.S. Capitol at the request of Virginia state leaders.

Gilland said that a team of stakeholders and experts over the past several weeks had developed a plan to meet all of the recommendations by the Congressional Naming Commission under Defense Department directives.

The Lee portrait will be removed from the military academy’s library and placed in storage at West Point’s museum. Separately, a portrait of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, who led union troops against Lee in the civil war, will be moved from the library to Grant Hall.

A stone bust of Lee at Reconciliation Plaza will also be removed and placed in storage, while an accompanying bust of Grant will be moved to the front of Grant Hall.

The school is also replacing a quote from Lee at Honor Plaza. A committee set up by the school is to choose a new quote to replace Lee’s, with plans for it to be instated by the spring of next year.

Stone markers in Reconciliation Plaza that the Naming Commission determined commemorate the Confederacy will also be modified with new language and images, while “still conveying the Plaza’s central message of reconciliation.”

Finally, a series of streets, buildings and areas that carry Lee’s name will also be changed.

“In the case of those items that were class gifts (specifically, Honor Plaza and Reconciliation Plaza), we will continue to work closely with those classes throughout this process,” Gilland wrote. “Any costs associated with the Commission’s recommendations will be resourced within the Department of Defense.”