The trial between the City of Charlottesville and the Trevellion Battlefield and Ratcliffe foundations scheduled for Thursday was delayed for the second time Tuesday for undisclosed reasons. The case was originally scheduled to be heard at Charlottesville Circuit Court Feb. 1 but was first delayed because Richard Milnor, the attorney representing the City of Charlottesville, was ill. Currently, no reschedule trial date has been set.
The trial will determine whether the City had the right to transfer ownership of the Robert E. Lee statue which formerly stood in Market Street Park to the Jefferson School of African American Heritage. Swords into Plowshares, a group of community members led by JSAAHC, plans to melt into a new form of public art as part of their Swords into Plowshares initiative.
SIP spokesperson Lisa Draine said that the circumstances surrounding the most recent postponement were out of the SIP team’s control and that press will be notified as soon as SIP has details about the trial’s new date.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Trevellian Battlefield and Ratcliffe Foundation — have argued that under state law §15.2-1812, the City is allowed to “remove, relocate, contextualize or cover” memorials and monuments of war veterans, but not necessarily destroy them. They hope to take the statue — or, if already destroyed, the melted bronze — and force the city to re-open bidding.
The Trevellian Battlefield foundation manages a Civil War battlefield site in Louisa County and the Ratcliffe Foundation manages a museum in Russell County linked to Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart. Both made failed bids for the Lee statue and subsequently filed a joint lawsuit against the City.
The Lee statue has been a source of contention in Charlottesville for decades, with many objecting to its public memorialization of a figure central to the Confederacy. Fourth-year College student Zyahna Bryant authored a petition in 2016 calling for the statue to be removed. In a letter written at the time, Bryant said that, as a Black woman, the memorial served to make her feel unwelcome in Charlottesville.
“When I think of Robert E. Lee, I instantly think of someone fighting in favor of slavery,” Bryant wrote. “Thoughts of physical harm, cruelty, and disenfranchisement flood my mind. As a teenager in Charlottesville that identifies as [B]lack, I am offended every time I pass it.”
Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously in February 2017 to take down the Lee statue following years of litigation and advocacy efforts by community members and students.
Months later, a group of white supremacists descended upon the Lawn Aug. 11 protesting the statue’s removal, one day before the deadly “Unite the Right” rally, where Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer was killed by a neo-Nazi who drove his car into a crowd of counter-protestors.
In July 2021, the City formally removed the Lee statue from Market Street Park and considered proposals from ten different groups bidding to take ownership. The Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously in Dec. 2021 to give it to the Jefferson School.