Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue
Workers remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Market Street Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA, 10 July 2021. (JIM LO SCALZO/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, Center of Deadly Charlottesville Rally, Finally Removed 

The controversial statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee — which played a key role in the deadly Charlottesville “Unite the Right” Rally in 2017 — has finally been taken down after years of protests and cries for its removal.

J.L. Cook of The Root reported that “work to remove two statues erected in honor of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Charlottesville, VA began on Saturday morning, July 10.”

Charlottesville citizens had been trying to remove the statues since at least 2016. In 2017, the Confederate statues became the focal point of the violent rally when white nationalists, neo-Nazis and KKK members clashed with counter-protesters — the most infamous incident being when a supporter of the Klan crashed his car into a crowd that ultimately killed Heather Heyer and injuring several others.

Following the Charlottesville rally, former President Donald Trump made one of his most controversial and often-repeated racist claims, saying the white supremacist/KKK attending the rally contained some “very fine people.” 

Trump also voiced his support for Lee at the event, calling the slave-owning leader hailed as a hero for the Confederate army “a great General.”

According to Cook, even after that deadly rally, it took a considerable amount of time before any action could be taken with the statues, saying, “because of litigation and changes to a state law dealing with war memorials, the city had been unable to act until now.”

After news broke of the statues coming down on Friday, one of the coalitions that had regularly protested for their removal — Take ‘Em Down Cville — issued a statement applauding the decision, saying, in part, “as long as they remain standing in our downtown public spaces, they signal that our community tolerated white supremacy and the Lost Cause these generals fought for.”

The city of Charlottesville said only the bronze statues would be coming down; the stone bases will remain until the city decided how to utilize the space in the future. 

As for the statues themselves, Charlottesville officials said they could be going into storage or may even end up in a museum.

According to a news release, “the city has solicited for expressions of interest from any museum, historical society, government or military battlefield interested in acquiring the statues, or either of them, for relocation and placement. The Charlottesville City Manager has received ten responses thus far – six out of state and four in-state – that are all under review. The city remains open to additional expressions of interest.” 

Protesters have cautioned that wherever they go, the city doesn’t want to make the mistake of sending the Confederate statues somewhere where they could be celebrated. Instead, they should be displayed for their historical significance and as a sign of the country’s racist past.

Ben Paviour of NPR reported that “Charlottesville’s statues of Lee and Jackson were erected in the early 1920s with large ceremonies that included Confederate veteran reunions, parades and balls. At one event during the 1921 unveiling of the Jackson statue, children formed a living Confederate flag on the lawn of a school down the road from Vinegar Hill, a prominent Black neighborhood.”

“This was [also] at the height of Jim Crow segregation, at the height of lynchings in American history,” Sterling Howell, programs coordinator with the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, told NPR. “There was a clear statement that [Black people] weren’t welcome.”

Speaking to reporters as workers began the process of removing the statues from their bases, Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the city was heading in the right direction in reconciling with its violent racial history.

“Taking down this statue is one small step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia, and America, grapple with the sin of being willing to destroy Black people for economic gain,” Walker said.

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