The US state of Virginia is set to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee in Richmond on Wednesday, a move lauded by many but seen by some as a reaction against the graffiti on the controversial monument.

The statue was erected more than 130 years ago as a tribute to a Civil War hero who is now widely seen as a symbol of racial injustice.

"Virginia's largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will come down this week. This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth," Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement quoted by the Associated Press.

Northam announced plans to take down the 21-foot (6.4-meter) tall bronze statue in June 2020, 10 days after George Floyd died under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, sparking nationwide protests against police brutality and racism. The removal was shelved for more than a year due to two lawsuits filed by residents who opposed the removal, but the Supreme Court of Virginia cleared the way for the statue to be taken down.

Plaques from the base of the monument will be removed on Thursday after the statue is taken down on Wednesday.

Some racial justice advocates see the graffiti-covered pedestal not as a monument of slavery but as a symbol of the protest movement that erupted after Floyd's killing.

Lawrence West, a member of the activist group BLM RVA, said that he believes the decision to remove the statue was fueled by the work of protesters.

"I mean, it had not come down before. They (Democrats in charge of state government) had all the opportunities in the world," the 38-year old activist said, according to the Associated Press.

In Richmond, a city that was the capital of the Confederacy for much of the Civil War, the Lee statue became the epicenter of last summer's protest movement. The city has removed more than a dozen other pieces of Confederate statuary on city land since Floyd's death.

The Lee statue was created by the internationally renowned French sculptor Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercie and is considered a "masterpiece," according to its nomination to the National Register of Historic Places, where it has been listed since 2007.

When the statue arrived in 1890 from France, an estimated 10,000 Virginians used wagons to haul its pieces more than a mile to where it now stands. White residents celebrated the statue, but many Black residents have long seen it as a monument glorifying slavery.