CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia – Four years after a woman was killed and dozens injured when white nationalists protested the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., Workers removed the statue on Saturday, as well as a nearby monument to Stonewall Jackson, another Confederate general.
The larger-than-life statue of Lee was hoisted from its granite base shortly after 8 a.m. as a crowd of around 200 watched. As the flatbed truck carrying the bronze statue rolled down East Jefferson Street, a honking from the truck elicited cheers and applause.
Jackson was removed about two hours later, and shortly after noon city council held an emergency meeting and voted unanimously to remove another statue, that of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. The 1919 sculpture has long raised concerns for its portrayal of Sacagawea, the Shoshone Woman who is depicted with the two best-known explorers in a crouching manner that some consider submissive.
John Edwin Mason, professor of history at the University of Virginia, rushed around the perimeter of the park as the removal of Lee’s statue was underway to closely monitor the proceedings. “I’m really glad it’s a boring morning, and boring means no bad thing has happened,” he said, adding, “The banality of this occasion is good.”
The city’s decision on Friday to finally remove the statue of Lee came more than four years after city council initially presented a plan to remove it from what was then known as Lee Park, prompting dozens of nationalists whites to get off in Charlottesville. in August 2017 during a rally “Unite the Right” to protest against the withdrawal.
Counter-protesters clashed with the rally and a white supremacist stormed into a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing a woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring dozens more. The violence that day, along with the overt racism and anti-Semitism displayed at the rally, intensified calls to remove Confederate statues across the country.
“It feels good. It’s been a long time coming,” said Zyahna Bryant, a University of Virginia student who was in her ninth grade in Charlottesville when she launched a petition in March 2016 calling on the city to withdraw the statue of Lee and to rename Lee Park, which is now called Market Street Park.
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The city supported Mrs Bryant’s efforts and voted to remove the statue of Lee on horseback, Traveler, which was erected in 1924, as well as a nearby statue of Jackson on horseback, which was erected in 1921. It has also changed the name of the park where the Jackson statue stands, from Jackson Park to Court Square Park.
âThe falling statues are just the tip of the iceberg,â said Bryant. âThere are bigger systems that need to be dismantled. Equity in education is a good place to start.
Mike Signer, author and lawyer who served as a city councilor and mayor at the Unite the Right rally in 2017, called the removal a “real step forward.” He said the statues had become “totems for these terrorists”.
âIn many ways, Charlottesville was a microcosm of what happened in the country: the advent of blatant, open and violent white nationalism on public streets,â he said. “The ‘Unite the Right’ rally was clearly a prologue to the January 6 insurgency.”
He said he was happy the city council acted quickly after the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in April that the city can remove the statues, a decision that overturned a 2019 Circuit Court ruling that the statues could not be removed because they were protected by State law.
“The withdrawal will be a relief for a lot of people, and there will be some healing that will hopefully take place,” Signer said.
President Biden, who said Charlottesville had inspired him to run for president, also welcomed the removal of the statues, according to spokeswoman Emilie Simons. “The president believes that monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders belong to museums and not to public places,” said Simons. noted.
Discussions about removing the statue of Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea were underway, and shortly after the city council vote on Saturday crews arrived to begin tearing it down.
“It was a very offensive statue,” Rose Abrahamson, an educator from Idaho and member of the Shoshone tribe who said she was a great-great-great-niece of Sacagawea, told the council on Saturday.
She said she supports talks to donate the statue to a local museum, the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center. âWe have come a long way to be the human tribe we should be,â she said.
Less than a mile from the Lewis & Clark statue, on the grounds of the University of Virginia, a statue of Clark’s older brother, Revolutionary War General George Rogers Clark, was also due to be removed on Sunday after complaints that she was describing the massacre of Native Americans, according to a local newspaper article.
Over the past month, the city has solicited expressions of interest from museums, historical societies and others interested in acquiring the monuments.
After Ms Bryant submitted her petition, a commission created by the city to examine the monuments of Charlottesville found that the statues of Lee and Jackson, like other Confederate monuments across the country, glorified the South’s racist past.
“The statues of Lee and Jackson embodied the interpretation of the lost cause of the Civil War, which romanticized the Confederate past and removed the horrors of slavery and the role of slavery as the root cause of all war. affirming the enduring role of white supremacy, “the commission wrote. .
The lost cause mythology, the commission added, helped justify segregation in housing, employment and education and the denial of the franchise to black voters.
Jock Yellott, director of the Monument Fund, who had taken legal action to prevent the removal of the statues, said the removal of the monument to Lee would hamper public debate on history, including Lee’s role in the war civil.
âIf you take it out, there’s nothing more to say – just a blank space,â he said as he stood near the statue on Friday. “There is nothing to photograph, no reason for a tourist to come here, and it is a loss for the city.”
In Market Street Park, Cornelia Johnson, a Charlottesville resident who works as a choir director and pianist, said she disagreed with those who see the removal of the statues as a “great achievement.”
âCutting down a statue is not going to make things better for people of color,â she said. âChange has to come from within. And I don’t mind one way or the other if they give up.
But Sally L. Hudson, the state delegate who represents Charlottesville and was one of the sponsors of the bill that allowed communities to remove war memorials, said the move was long overdue.
âOur community has been ready to reclaim this space for a long time,â she said on Saturday, adding, âNow we have the opportunity to reshape what it feels like here and make sure that it is. is a place where everyone in Charlottesville feels welcome.