DURHAM, N.C. - Duke University removed a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee early Saturday, days after it was vandalized amid a national debate about monuments to the Confederacy.
The university said it removed the carved limestone likeness early Saturday morning from Duke Chapel where it stood among 10 historical figures depicted in the entryway. Another statue of Lee was at the heart of a violent protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned deadly a week ago.
University president Vincent Price said in a letter to the campus community that he consulted with faculty, staff, students and alumni about the decision to remove the statue. Officials discovered early Thursday that the statue's face had been damaged by vandalism.
"I took this course of action to protect Duke Chapel, to ensure the vital safety of students and community members who worship there, and above all to express the deep and abiding values of our university," Price said in the letter.
Durham has been a focal point in the debate over Confederate statues after protesters tore down a bronze Confederate soldier in front of a government building downtown. Eight people have been charged with tearing down the statue during a protest on Monday.
Hundreds marched on Friday through downtown Durham in a largely peaceful demonstration against racism, leading to an impromptu rally at the site where the bronze statue was toppled.
Other monuments around the state have been vandalized since the Charlottesville protest. There have also been calls to take down a Confederate soldier statue from the campus of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
Gov. Roy Cooper has urged the removal of Confederate monuments from public property around the state, though his goal would be difficult to achieve because of a 2015 state law restricting their removal. Duke is a private university and outside the scope of that law.