The city of Charlottesville, Virginia, plans to take down a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee this weekend, a long-controversial monument that became the centre of the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist and neo-Nazi rally.
At the rally, far-right groups massed with torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us!” while a white supremacist fatally rammed his car into a group of anti-racist counterprotestors, killing Heather Heyer and injuring numerous others.
The statute, as well as a nearby monument to another Confederate general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, will be removed on Saturday, the city said in a news release.
Racial justice activists celebrated the announcement. “As long as they remain standing in our downtown public spaces, they signal that our community tolerated white supremacy and the Lost Cause these generals fought for,” the Take ‘Em Down Cville coalition said in a statement.
Local residents had been pushing to take down the statues since even before the Unite the Right rally. Following the tragic violence at the event, the Charlottesville city council voted to take down the monument, but a group of citizens sued to prevent that from happening, citing a 1997 state law prohibiting localities from removing Confederate monuments.
The case went all the way up to the state Supreme Court, and in April it ruled that the law didn’t apply to the monuments since they were built before its passed.
“It feels good,” Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said at the time. “It provided some inspiration today to continue this work,” of social justice, she added.
Like most Confederate monuments, the ones in Charlottesville were not put up in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. Instead, the statues in Charlottesville were built in the 1920s, a decade that saw both the resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan, a violent white supremacist group intent on suppressing the rights of Black people, and the passage of numerous Jim Crow policies treating Black people as second-class citizens in the eyes of the law.
There are more than 750 Confederate monuments across the country, though the Unite the Right rally inspired some localities to begin taking them down. At least 44 have been removed since, according to a 2020 analysis from Al Jazeera.
In some cases, Confederate symbols were displayed proudly at official government buildings. Until 2015, when activist Bree Newsome climbed a flag pole to remove it, the Confederate flag flew above the South Carolina statehouse.
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