When the Toppled Statue Is of Your Great-Great-Great-Grandfather

Shortly after the police killing of Mr. Floyd, Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia said he would move to take down the statue of Lee, and the protests sweeping the nation have also influenced Mr. Lee’s father.

“He looked at me the other day, on Father’s Day actually, and he said, ‘You know, I’ve really thought about this a lot, and I’m seeing that it’s hurting people, the statues staying up,’” Mr. Lee recalled.

Mr. Harris said protesters’ destruction of some monuments could create animosity among those opposed to their removal, but he noted that the Wickhams had unsuccessfully tried to get the ball rolling for years.

“So often, as they say, if you don’t adapt, you kind of get run over by the change as it comes through,” Mr. Harris said.

Some cities have responded more quickly to requests from descendants.

City employees in Raleigh, N.C., pulled down a statue of Josephus Daniels this month after getting a request from a group of his descendants. Mr. Daniels, a former publisher and editor of The News & Observer, championed white supremacist views and helped to incite the 1898 massacre in Wilmington, N.C., in which black businesses were burned and dozens of black people were killed.

Frank Daniels III said the family decided to remove the statue to show support for the racial justice movement. He said it had been difficult for some older family members who knew Josephus Daniels personally and who feel like the decision has opened the family’s history up to public criticism.

But being in control of the process, allowing the family to move the statue somewhere private, has made it easier, Frank Daniels said.

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