The Charlottesville Circuit Court dismissed the majority of the lawsuit in Wednesday’s trial over the future of Charlottesville’s controversial Robert E. Lee statue. With only one count remaining, leaders of the initiative to melt down Lee look towards the statue’s future.
The court held that Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation could not sue the City of Charlottesville for two counts — one alleging that the City was required to provide public notice before removing a war memorial, and another on violating public contracts. The Foundation may still sue on the claim that the City violated Freedom of Information laws during City Council negotiations over the statue.
The two-year long trial determines whether the City had the right to transfer ownership of the Lee statue in 2021 which formerly stood in Market Street Park to the Jefferson School of African American Heritage Center.
Christopher R. Tate of Flora Pettit PC, counsel for the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, said in a press release that JSAAHC anticipates a full judgment in the City’s favor. While JSAAHC is not a defendant in the case, if the City wins, Tate said the group will proceed with the Swords into Plowshares project — an initiative to melt the statue and remake it into a new public art piece .
“We are very pleased with the victory that today’s ruling represents, and we’re thankful for the Court’s diligence and thoughtfulness in approaching these issues,” Tate said.
The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation, 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.
The Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation was initially joined by the Ratcliffe Foundation in bringing the suit, but the court removed the Ratcliffe Foundation as a plaintiff this May following a 2015 ruling terminating the group’s corporate status.
The Lee statue has been the subject of much controversy and several lawsuits over the years. City Council unanimously voted to have the statue removed in February 2017. Several months later on Aug. 11, white supremacists marched down the Lawn protesting the statue’s removal and the next day’s “Unite the Right” rally turned deadly when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter protesters — injuring 19 and killing Charlottesville resident Heather Heyer.
The City donated the statue to JSAAHC in 2021 after reviewing the organization’s proposal to melt Lee down into a new public artwork. The statue has since been in storage in an undisclosed location.
SIP spokesperson Lisa Draine said in a press release despite “on-going legal harassment”, the SIP team has completed the community engagement phase of the project to collectively determine what the future of the Lee statue looks like. The team will begin the search for an artist to create a work of art in collaboration with the community.