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Charlottesville removes shrouds on Lee, Jackson statues

A judge ruled Tuesday that the tarps had overstayed their temporary nature

<p>When City Council first ordered the statues to be covered, it did not set a date for the tarps’ removal.</p>

When City Council first ordered the statues to be covered, it did not set a date for the tarps’ removal.

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore ruled Tuesday that the City of Charlottesville must remove the black shrouds covering the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in Emancipation and Justice Parks, respectively. Moore previously postponed his decision about removing the shrouds earlier this month. 

The tarps covering the statues were removed Wednesday. 

In October, former City Attorney Craig Brown and Deputy City Attorney Lisa Robertson argued the tarps were a temporary measure to mourn the loss of life and severe injuries the community endured on Aug. 12. At the time, Moore ruled the tarps could remain. Tuesday, however, Moore ruled the shrouds have since overstayed their temporary nature. 

When City Council first ordered the statues to be covered, it did not set a date for the tarps’ removal. 

Before the hearing began, around 50 community members gathered in front of the Courthouse for a protest urging Moore to rule in favor of keeping the shrouds currently covering the statues. The demonstration was led by a number of local divisions of activist groups including Black Lives Matter, Showing Up for Racial Justice — a national organization that promotes multiracial activism — and Charlottesville Democratic Socialists of America.

Protesters held signs reading, “Tear down monuments to white supremacy,” “Remove Jim Crow statues,” “Stop defending white supremacy” and “Hate has no home here,” among others.

Community members gathered in front of the courthouse Tuesday to advocate for the removal of the Confederate statues.

City Council voted 3-2 to remove the statue of Lee last February while the vote to remove the statue of Jackson passed unanimously in September. The council ordered the statues to be shrouded following Aug. 12, when white nationalists held the Unite the Right rally in Emancipation Park which resulted in the death of Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer after a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters near the Downtown Mall. 

The city released a statement following the hearing Tuesday expressing its disappointment with the ruling but it intends to respect the court’s decision.

Nina Zinsserzooth, a Charlottesville native and representative of SURJ, was present at the rally. Before the court ruled to remove the tarps, she said the removal of the statues would be a step toward recovering from the events of August.

“How does a city heal from an event like that when were still dealing with these statues?” Zinsserzooth said. “And maybe uncovered, a bright beacon of white supremacist to come back into the cities. It’s really upsetting as a resident of the city. I feel our community [is] at risk until those statues come down.”

Other community members without any particular affiliation with the leading organizations also attended the rally in support of removing the statues. 

“We have been continuing to unite and rally and bring awareness of what these monuments actually mean,” said Don Gathers, a Charlottesville resident and former chair of the city’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. “This is an ongoing battle and the fight will go on till voices are clearly heard and they take down these signs of oppression.”

Gathers commented on the removal of Confederate symbols in other cities around the nation, following the events of August.

“Literally what we saw after what happened from that tragic weekend, places from all over the nation started taking down these racist markings,” Gathers said. “The movement started here in Charlottesville, and we might be the last people to take them down.”

The hearing Tuesday was the continuation of an ongoing lawsuit filed last March against the City of Charlottesville and members of City Council who served on the body in 2017 — Wes Bellamy, Kristin Szakos, Bob Fenwick, Mike Signer and Kathy Galvin. Fenwick and Szakos are no longer on Council, as their terms came to an end in December. 

Two organizations — the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Inc. and the Monument Fund, Inc. — and 11 individuals filed the suit, arguing the decision to remove the statues violated Virginia code protecting memorials for war veterans. 

The next hearing is set for April 11.