Action is being taken in Charlottesville, Virginia, to remove statues of former Confederate American Civil War generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the city’s parks.
The city council has voted to remove the statues because of the “Unite the Right” rally in 2017, which saw far-right groups gather around the statues. The event resulted in 30 causalities from a clash between protesters and counter-protestors.
The Charlottesville City Council wanted to remove the statues soon after the 2017 rally to prevent future unrest, but a few local inhabitants filed a lawsuit that put a stop to the removal. In April 2021, Virginia’s Supreme Court discarded the suit and enabled the state’s local areas to decide what they do with the Civil War statues.
The council held a videoconference hearing on the topic, which saw 55 citizens vote on the matter. A huge majority voted in favor of removing the statues. After this, the public has been given 30 days to send the council proposals of what to do with the statues. Many want them to be completely destroyed.
Katrina Turner, who attended the hearing, said: “Melt them down. Get rid of them where nobody else has to look at what has stood for so long to keep us in our place.”
Many think time is of the essence with the statues’ removal, as their presence may cause more local clashes. On top of just removing the statues, a number of people from the community do not want them to then be sent to other areas. Prominent member of the community Don Gathers said, “If my trash ends up in a neighbor’s yard, it’s still trash.”
It is hoped that the statues can be removed before mid-August, which is the anniversary of the 2017 protest and is regarded as a potential public safety hazard. Some people in opposition to the move have suggested keeping the statues, but providing information about them for context — but others argued this wouldn’t be enough.
Another statue of Robert E. Lee likely to be removed in Richmond
70 miles away in Richmond, the capital of Virginia, the removal of another statue of Lee in Richmond is also being pushed for by the state’s governor Ralph Northam.
The large 60-foot-tall statue is the centerpiece of the city and was constructed in France before being placed in Virginia in 1890. Robert E. Lee was one of the most prominent figures involved in the American Civil War. He managed to achieve many victories on the battlefield against superior numbers of enemy forces. After his death in 1870, Lee quickly became a hero and an icon of the southern states, with many statues being erected in his honor.
Monuments dedicated to him have become controversial in recent years, however, following the Charlottesville rally in 2017 and the death of George Floyd last year.
Northam pushed for the statue’s removal in mid-2020, but the request was put on hold while the outcome of a lawsuit was decided. In October of 2020, Northam’s request was approved by the court, but the matter has now been passed to the Supreme Court of Virginia. The court will hold a hearing on Tuesday morning to decide the fate of the large monument.
The court will review two cases that have been appealed, one of which involved a descendant from the family who originally owned and offered up their land to be used for the Lee statue all the way back in 1890. The person claimed that the removal of the statue breaches the terms of the deed signed in 1890.
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Until the final decision by the court is made, which will likely be in the summer, the Richmond monument has been surrounded by fencing. A group funded by the state has been established to decide what to use the land for if the statue is removed.