Richmonders awoke on the morning of January 17 to find that some of their fellow citizens had celebrated the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by defacing a statue of General Robert E. Lee, whose official State holiday happened to fall on the same day as the anniversary of Dr. King's birth this year.

Virginia Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans, is offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the defacement. Richmond City Police are assisting the Virginia Capitol Police with the investigation. Anyone with information is asked to call the Capitol Police at (804) 786-4357.

Photograph by Dean Hoffmeyer/The Richmond Times-Dispatch
According to Virginia Capitol Police Major Mike Jones, the words "Happy Birthday, MLK "and "Death to Nazis" were painted on the statue sometime between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. A fixture that illuminates the statue after dark was also broken.

"There are no witnesses that we've been able to find," Jones said. Although he indicated that the vandalism appeared to be a political statement and "issue specific," he declined to brand the incident as a hate crime. The cost of cleaning the monument and repairing the damage to the light will be high enough, however, to classify it as a felony.

Of the five Confederate statues that decorate Monument Avenue -- Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, "Stonewall" Jackson, and Matthew Fontaine Maury -- the Lee statue seems to be the most frequent target of vandalism. The only one of the five owned by the Commonwealth, it has been scratched and spray-painted a number of times over the years.

Virginia Division UDC President Dolores Smith issued the following statement regarding the vandalism: "Virginia Daughters are extremely upset at the latest attack on our beloved statue of Robert E. Lee. We are following the progress of the Richmond Police and hope and pray that the perpetrators of this senseless act of vandalism will be apprehended."

Virginia Division UDC offers Dr. King's own words to those who saw fit to engage in an act that Dr. King himself would never have condoned or tolerated:
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

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