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City Council to decide future of recently-removed Lee and Jackson monuments

Groups submitted proposals to the City Council, which will meet to discuss the fate of the monuments at its Dec. 6 meeting

The Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statues were removed in July following years of advocacy from community members and students.
The Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statues were removed in July following years of advocacy from community members and students.

City Council will meet Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss the future of the Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statues, which were removed in July following years of advocacy from community members and students, according to an announcement from Mayor Nikuyah Walker. Six proposals were submitted to City Council for relocation. 

The Robert E. Lee statue was first erected in 1924, while the Stonewall Jackson statue was erected in 1921. Both were funded by Paul Goodloe McIntire, the namesake of the University’s McIntire School of Commerce, McIntire Department of Art, McIntire Department of Music and McIntire Amphitheatre. 

Zyahna Bryant, local activist and third-year College student , first wrote a petition in 2016 demanding that the name of Lee Park be changed and his statue removed. After Bryant’s petition quickly gained traction, City Council created the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces to seek public comment on the statues and make a recommendation on their futures. The group’s final report suggested removal and relocation or contextualization of the statues.

Controversy surrounding the statues precipitated the “Unite the Right” rally in Aug. 2017, when hundreds of white supremacists groups and individuals gathered in Charlottesville to protest City Council’s vote to remove the Lee statue. White nationalists clashed with counter-protestors, leading to dozens of injuries, and Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer was killed after one protester drove a car through a crowd of people at an intersection. In a civil trial against the organizers of the rally, jurors ordered the defendants to pay more than $25 million in damages.

All six proposals that were submitted to City Council present vastly different visions for the statues.

One proposal comes from the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, an organization whose mission is to honor and preserve the rich heritage and legacy of Charlottesville’s Black community and to promote “the contributions of African Americans and peoples of the African Diaspora locally, nationally and globally.” 

The group has proposed a project called “Swords into Plowshares,” which would entail melting down the Robert E. Lee statue and commissioning an artist-in-residence to repurpose the bronze for a public art installation. 

The idea for “Swords into Plowshares” comes from Isaiah 2:4, which discusses nations turning their “swords into plowshares” and not again engaging in war. In a press release issued on Oct. 18, the JSSAHC said that their project “will represent the desires of the entire community for values-driven, socially just objects in our public spaces.” 

While many groups are offering plans to recontextualize the monuments, JSAAHC believes that “recontextualization is not enough.” Rather than framing the act as one of destruction, JSAAHC says that they will be engaging in an act of transformation.

“Transformation is different from destruction: the new piece of art will draw meaning from the fact that it will be formed from the very materials that were once used in the Lee statue,” the proposal reads. “We believe our proposal will create an opportunity to move history forward and leave behind the false notion that such symbols are a fixed part of our community’s shared heritage.”

JSAAHC’s proposal has support from local and national organizations, including the University of Virginia Democracy Initiative’s Memory Project, Descendants of Enslaved Communities at U.Va., and the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, which seeks to bridge diverse communities through the arts. The Memory Project examines how individuals think about the past and use it to shape their futures, while the Descendants of Enslaved Communities at U.Va. serves as the collective voice of all descendants of enslaved and free Black communities who labored at the University.

The “Swords into Plowshares” project has already raised over $500,000 in funding. 

Another proposal came from the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum located in the hometown of Stonewall Jackson — Weston, West Virginia. 

The building operated as a mental health care facility from 1864 to 1994, and since closing its mental health operations, the site has been providing tours of the facility to 40,000 tourists each year, which feature discussion of the building’s significance during the Civil War and the building’s architecture.

Currently, the city of Weston is undergoing a “revitalization and restoration project” underwritten by the Historic Landmarks Commission, which is dedicated to preserving the city’s historical sites, and other community groups to save some of its most “at-risk structures.” 

“The goal of the HLC and TALA is to share and preserve these histories while encouraging discourse allowing the public to learn from the past,” the group stated in their proposal. 

The group has offered $1,000 for ownership of the Stonewall Jackson statue and its granite base and will emphasize “the importance of confronting these historical narratives in the hope of leading to peacebuilding and equality.”

The Ratcliffe Foundation, a 501cx3 group established in honor of the late Arthur M. “Smiley’ Ratliff — a well-known coal miner, businessman, winning football coach and World War II and Korean War veteran from Southwest Virginia — has placed a $50,000 offer for both statues. The foundation says it has a “creative vision” for moving the monuments to Ellenbrook, a “historic, museum-like setting where they can be appropriately preserved, displayed, and contextualized in perpetuity.” 

The foundation plans to use historians and curators to depict how and why the statues were erected and why they were removed.

Like the Lunatic Asylum, the Southwest Virginia Historic Monument could attract up to 40,000 visitors annually, the proposal notes, which could create new tax revenue for the region, making good out of “otherwise difficult and challenging circumstances.”

The proposal details the acquisition, timeline and terms of offer and features maps of the land. 

One proposal, entitled “Confederate Statues Offer,” differed from the rest.

In a handwritten proposal, Frederick Girrisch from Utopia, Texas, who calls himself an “individual family man with a great wife and great kids,” requests the statues for his personal collection on his 2800 acre ranch. 

“I believe our histories good and bad should be preserved,” writes Girrisch. “These will be in a secure location and protected from any future graffiti or harm.”

Girrisch listed four reasons for why the City should accept his bid of $10,000 each per statue and base, namely that he offers “a better, quieter alternative” to other offers, as he pledges to keep the statues “out of sight and out of mind.”

Statuary Park at Gettysburg, submitted comments on the process, upon being granted the opportunity to submit a proposal. 

The Park’s mission is to “rescue” unwanted statues and present them to the public. The Park models itself after museums in Taiwan, Russia, Hungary, and Lithuania, where, according to the proposal, “there is no ennobling of the statues.” 

The group’s commentary calls the cost of moving the bases “a meaningful deterrent” that “favors well-established statues or those close to Charlottesville itself,” and recommends that the city take advantage of the $250 million Monuments Project to Census, Remove, and Replace. 

The Project is a commitment by the Mellon Foundation to support public projects that seek to represent the “multiplicity and complexity of American stories.”

LAXART, a non-profit art space based in Los Angeles, California, has requested both monuments for an exhibition whose working title is “MONUMENTS.”

Co-curated by Hamza Walker, Director of LAXART and Kara Walker, the exhibition is a joint venture between LAXART and the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art that would feature a selection of decommissioned Confederate monuments along with works of contemporary art, according to the proposal submitted by the group. 

“MONUMENTS will de- and re-conextualize the Confederate monument from the perspective of the present moment … in the wake of recent white supremacist extremism,” the proposal states.

The exhibition will feature on-site educational materials, a scholarly publication and a year-long series of public educational programs. 

“The past can hardly be said to be past,” the proposal notes, referencing the lasting legacy of slavery and Jim Crow manifested in persistent white supremacy.

The statues would be given to artists Kara Walker and William Pope.L, selected “for the manner their work engages history and its legacies.” 

“In addition to contextualizing the monuments socially, historically and art historically, the exhibition will squarely critique and confront the Lost Cause, framing it as the intentional rewriting of history which has acted as a highly effective propaganda campaign.” 

Using funding from a variety of sources, including the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation and the Getty Foundation, LAXART has offered the City of Charlottesville $100,000 for its dismantling costs and transportation and storage costs they would incur. 

In addition, the proposal outlined LAXART’s recontextualization plan, which aims to “squarely critique and confront the Lost Cause” in addition to contextualizing the monuments historically and socially. The proposal states that their goal is “to show that each of these objects has its own life, specific to the community in which it is situated.” 

The public will be able to view a livestream of the meeting on the Council’s website