Historic George Washington church to remove memorial because he owned slaves

A historic church in Virginia with connections to America's first president, George Washington, is to remove plaques commemorating him and Confederate general Robert E Lee because of their record as slaveholders.

Christ Church Alexandria is to remove memorials to George Washington and Robert E Lee.Wikimedia Commons

Christ Church in Alexandria has announced it would remove the memorials, saying: 'The plaques in our sanctuary make some in our presence feel unsafe or unwelcome. Some visitors and guests who worship with us choose not to return because they receive an unintended message from the prominent presence of the plaques.'

Its statement added: 'Many in our congregation feel a strong need for the church to stand clearly on the side of "all are welcome – no exceptions.'

America's revered founder acquired slaves throughout his life and his Mount Vernon estate had 317 at the time of his death.

Other memorials to Lee and Confederate generals have been removed from public display following national unease about their link with white supremacist movements, but Christ Church's move is thought to be the first time Washington has been implicated.

In its statement the church described the decision as 'a beginning not an end'. It said: 'It is important to understand that the plaques will not be moved to a storage area. Rather, they will remain in the church until they can be relocated to a place of respectful prominence where they will be fully visible to parishioners and tourists alike. And ultimately, they will be incorporated into a more complete presentation of our long and many-faceted history.'