Charlottesville will melt down controversial Robert E Lee statue at centre of 2017 hate rally

The statue will be remade into a piece of public art focused on racial justice and inclusion

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Tuesday 07 December 2021 20:42
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‘Long time coming’: Charlottesville removes Robert E. Lee statue
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A controversial statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee that was the focal point of the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, will be melted down and transformed into an anti-racist piece of public art.

On Tuesday, the Charlottesville city council voted 4-0 to donate the statue of the Confederate leader to an African-American history museum, which plans to melt the 1,100 pound monument and incorporate the materials into a new piece of public art organisers say will “transform a national symbol of white supremacy into a new work of art that will reflect racial justice and inclusion.”

The statue will go to Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The centre plans to refashion the statue as part of a project it calls “Swords Into Plowshares,” which beat out five other bids for what to do with the offending monument, as well as offers to buy the statue outright for nearly $100,000.

The centre is still working on what to make with the materials, and said in a video promoting its campaign that the installation will be a “community-based project” and any design will be based on “a six-month community engagement process where residents of Charlottesville can participate in forums to help determine how the social value of inclusion can be represented through art and public space.”

The monument was not erected during the Civil War itself, but rather in 1921, amid the resurgence of the white supremacist terror group the Klu Klux Klan and a broader cultural effort to reclaim a heroic Southern past during Jim Crow segregation.

For many of the city’s residents, the statue, of a man who was willing to join a cause that would secede from the United States before giving up slavery, was a symbol of racist violence.

Nearly 100 years later, that violence became literal, when a 2017 plan to remove the statue inspired hundreds of far-right demonstrators to mob the city during the infamous “Unite the Right” rally.

There, torch-wielding demonstrators chanted, “The Jews will not replace us!”, and a white supremacist drove a car through a crowd of counter-protestors and killed demonstrator Heather Heyer.

After the violence, community members covered the statue in graffiti, and officials continued with plans to remove it, taking it off its base this summer. Some community members fought the removal, arguing it violated an obscure state law forbidding the removal of war memorials, but the Virginia Supreme Court upheld the plans in April.

The Lee statue isn’t the only Confederate monument coming down in the state. On Sunday, Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced that a pedestal which used to contain its own monument to Lee in the city of Richmond, the former Confederate capital.

“This land is in the middle of Richmond, and Richmonders will determine the future of this space,” Mr. Northam said at the time. “The Commonwealth will remove the pedestal and we anticipate a safe removal and a successful conclusion to this project.

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