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Charlottesville City Council authorizes notice to remove, relocate, contextualize or cover Lee and Jackson statues

The earliest that the statutes can be removed is July 7

<p>The Commission — which includes subcommittees on public engagement, case studies, inventory of historical sites and historical context and background — uses input from the public to decide whether local Confederate monuments should be relocated or changed.</p>

The Commission — which includes subcommittees on public engagement, case studies, inventory of historical sites and historical context and background — uses input from the public to decide whether local Confederate monuments should be relocated or changed.

Charlottesville City Council met Monday night to discuss plans surrounding the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues. Excluding a budget amendment resolution, all City Council members approved the rest of the meeting’s consent agenda, which included authorizing the publication of a notice of City Council’s intention to remove, relocate, contextualize or cover the Lee and Jackson statues. The Council will also hold a public hearing on the next steps for the statues. 

According to City Manager Chip Boyles, the Council intends to publish the notice and then hold the public hearing at its June 7 meeting. The earliest that the statues can be removed will be 30 days after that hearing. This development comes four years after the City’s first attempt to remove the statues was prohibited by state courts. 

The Supreme Court of Virginia ruled April 1 that the Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson statues in Charlottesville were never subject to state code §15.2-1812, which was passed by the General Assembly in 1997 and bans localities from removing, interfering with and contextualizing or covering monuments without following appropriate guidelines. The Supreme Court’s ruling asserted that the code was only meant to apply to statues erected after 1997, excluding the Lee and Jackson statues which were constructed over 50 years before the code’s passage. 

The Robert E. Lee statue was erected in 1924 while the Stonewall Jackson statue was erected in 1931. Both statues were commissioned by Paul Goodloe McIntire — namesake of the University’s McIntire Amphitheatre, McIntire School of Commerce and McIntire Department of Art — who also donated land for the parks in which the statues are located.

Eight former members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces — a committee created by the Council in May 2016 to address concerns surrounding the Lee and Jackson statues — released a petition Sunday calling on the Council to immediately cover the statues and to never put them on public display again after their removal. 

In a report to the Council in December 2016, the BRC recommended that the statues be relocated to less conspicuous locations or transformed in ways that reflect the city’s "rejection of the Jim Crow-era narratives" embodied by the statues. According to the petition, however, subsequent events — especially the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017 — have demonstrated that the statues continue to serve as “rallying points for those who espouse racism and anti-Semitism” and need to be covered immediately and removed. 

“Legislation in 2020 and the recent Supreme Court of Virginia decision have eliminated all obstacles for removing the statues permanently,” the petition read. “The law also gives Council "sole authority to determine the final disposition" of them. Council must ensure that the statues are never again displayed in public, where they would continue to lie about the past and attract the veneration of those who espouse ideologies of hate.” 

Multiple members of the community spoke at the City Council meeting, urging the Council to remove the statues immediately. 

“This community has waited for four years to remove these statues and has seen the harm that they continue to bring to our community with their message of white supremacy,” said Kristin Szakos, Charlottesville resident and former City Councilwoman. “They should not be allowed to convey that message on our behalf one minute longer than necessary.” 

In 2016, second-year College student Zyanha Bryant — then a freshman at Charlottesville High School — wrote a petition to the City Council advocating for the removal and renaming of the Lee statue. City Council voted in February 2017 to remove the Lee statue and to rename Lee Park. A month later, the Monument Fund, the Virginia Division of Sons of Confederate Veterans and several individual plaintiffs filed a complaint that the resolutions violated state code §15.2-1812. 

In protest of the Council’s decision to remove the monument, alt-right groups and white supremacists marched down the Lawn with torches and held a rally near the Downtown Mall in August 2017. Three people were killed during the riots, including activist and Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer, and 19 others were injured. 

To mourn the lives lost following the rally, City Council placed tarps over both statues, and in September 2017, the Council passed another resolution to remove the Stonewall Jackson statue. The Charlottesville Circuit Court ruled in March 2018 that the City had to remove the shrouds covering the statues. 

“[The statues] can be put in storage for as long as the city needs to find an appropriate place for them,” Szakos said. “Please be aware that allowing them to be transported to public display in another community is not an appropriate place. Our moral toxic waste cannot be exported to do its damage elsewhere, even if such an arrangement would save our city money.”

Szakos provided suggestions for what to do with the statues after their removal, including melting the bronze and giving them to artists to create works of racial healing and justice. 

Political science professor Larycia Hawkins also called for the immediate removal of the statues. The first slaves arrived in Virginia in 1619, which, according to Hawkins, makes Virginia a center for both local and national politics. A descendant of enslaved laborers who traveled from Madagascar to serve as laborers on Basye Mountain, Hawkins emphasized the importance of remediating the white supremacist narrative of history. 

“The political may be local and national but it's always personal,” Hawkins said. “This place is pocked with memories and histories, some of which have been covered over, whitewashed, suppressed, stifled and, in some cases, erected as statues and symbols to lost causes.”

Hawkins echoed Szakos sentiments, calling for the Council to “dispense with the statues in a way that allows for restorative reparative justice.”

Cali Gaston, a business and property owner in Downtown Charlottesville, similarly urged the Council to place the statues in storage at the earliest date possible, even if plans for it are still being finalized. Gaston, speaking on behalf of her two property owner partners, also envisioned transforming the bronze from the statues into something transformative to promote community healing. 

“Not only are we eager for this monument to be gone from our neighborhood, we are hopeful that Council will understand that it will be a poisonous piece of propaganda if moved to any other location,” Gaston said.