Charlottesville City councilor to cast tie-breaking vote to remove Robert E. Lee statue
Councilman Bob Fenwick previously abstained, now changes mind
Charlottesville City Councilman Bob Fenwick (D) has pledged to vote to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park at the next Council meeting Feb. 6.
Fenwick had originally abstained from voting at the Jan. 17 meeting, and his decision to vote now will break the Council’s early tie.
In his remarks during the meeting Jan. 17, Fenwick acknowledged both the merits of Lee’s life and that he stood for slavery.
“He was a highly educated man, a top graduate and eventual superintendent of West Point,” Fenwick said at the meeting. “To say that Robert E. Lee didn’t believe his efforts as commanding general of the army of the Confederate states had as their primary aim the preservation of a way of life in which enslaved humans were the primary economic driver is in itself delusional.”
Though Fenwick did not take a clear stance on the issue, he said he wanted to carefully consider the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces and take into account the expenses associated with moving the statue.
“I was very concerned a vote to remove that night would take the energy out of a better city budget for citizens and neighborhoods which would mean community centers, the Jefferson School Heritage Center, diversion and mentoring programs [and] funding for 501c3 social programs like Legal Aid, Ready Kids, etc.,” Fenwick said in an email to The Cavalier Daily. “To avoid a vote the consequences of which I was uncertain about I voted to abstain.”
Since then, the Council has had a working session on the budget, which Fenwick said recognizes the city’s responsibility towards African-American heritage issues and other unrelated issues for the first time.
Though Fenwick is going to vote for the statue’s removal, he stressed the statue — which he said he views as a symbol of racism — will be relocated and preserved.
His decision was met with controversy from individuals and advocacy groups on both sides of the issue. While Showing up For Racial Justice applauded his efforts, organizations such as the Virginia Flaggers, which argues for the preservation of Confederate symbols, condemned the impending action.
The effort to remove the statue comes in a wave of similar efforts across the country to erase symbols which some believe stand for hate and racism. At the University itself, a Medical School building was recently renamed from Jordan Hall to Pinn Hall because it was formerly named after a eugenicist.
While Student Council has followed the issue closely and supports individual students who believe the statue should be removed, they did not take an organizational stance on the issue.
Maeve Curtin, a third-year College student and Student Council’s City Council Liaison, said she personally followed the work of the Blue Ribbon Commission and was impressed by the thoughtfulness and respectful discourse.
“[The Executive Board and I] have come to the conclusion that while we as students must be stewards of the place we inhabit and engage with Charlottesville and Albemarle, we are still very transient and as such it is not appropriate for Student Council to take a stance on an issue that is so historically embedded and will affect citizens of Charlottesville for all perpetuity,” Curtin said in an email statement.
However, Curtin said StudCo is encouraging of student involvement when examining the history of the University.
“We are currently examining a lot of our history and the markers of that history at U.Va., particularly as we look to our third century, and this is where StudCo would like to encourage students to get involved,” Curtin said.
Both Curtin and Fenwick said the line between erasing hate and erasing history must be determined on a case-by-case basis.
“Each community should decide how this issue should play out for their citizens,” Fenwick said. “It is interesting to note that where this discussion is being held there has been no book burnings, no melting down of statues, no destruction of history or art.”