Robert E. Lee's statue at the Duke University Chapel

Photo via snowmentality/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)

Duke removes Robert E. Lee statue from chapel days after vandals deface it

The statue's face was marred two days earlier.


Samantha Grasso


Posted on Aug 19, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 8:03 pm CDT

The Robert E. Lee statue flanking the entrance to the chapel at Duke University has been taken down days after vandals marred the figure’s face.

According to an email from Duke president Vincent E. Price shared with the university’s community, then posted onto the school’s online publication, Price consulted with the community and Board of Trustees before authorizing the statue’s removal early Saturday morning.

Price said he chose to silently remove the statue to protect the chapel and its worshipers, though he did not explicitly address avoiding the deadly violence seen in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, where white supremacists protested the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue.

Two days prior, vandals had damaged the face of the statue, chipping off part of Lee’s face along with the entirety of his nose. Earlier in the week, protesters in Durham, North Carolina, where Duke resides, toppled another Confederate statue. Alumni had called for Duke to remove the statue, with one pastor asserting “racist iconography has no place in a Christian church.”

Lee’s statue was part of 10 that flank the chapel’s main entrance. Previously, Duke had asserted that the statues don’t represent real people, but the Herald-Sun asserted that the now-removed statue was “unmistakably” him.

“Wednesday night’s act of vandalism made clear that the turmoil and turbulence of recent months do not stop at Duke’s gates,” Price wrote. “We have a responsibility to come together as a community to determine how we can respond to this unrest in a way that demonstrates our firm commitment to justice, not discrimination; to civil protest, not violence; to authentic dialogue, not rhetoric; and to empathy, not hatred.”

Price wrote that the statue will be “preserved” for students to study the university’s complex past, though didn’t specify where the statue will be located. However, Price wrote he will also create a community-based commission to advise him on next steps for memorialization and documentation of figures at Duke. The commission will “look at how we memorialize individuals on the Duke campus in buildings and sculpture and recommend principles drawn from Duke’s core values to guide us when questions arise.”

Share this article
*First Published: Aug 19, 2017, 10:22 am CDT