- The bronze statues of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson collapsed on Saturday.
- The Lee Memorial helped spark a violent white supremacy rally in 2017, in which one person died.
- In 2020, more than 90 Confederate memorials were dismantled or removed from public places following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.
A Confederate memorial that helped spark a violent white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which one person was killed, fell on Saturday.
Dozens of people lined the block and cheered as the bronze statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was lifted from its pedestal. Roads were closed and there was a visible police presence.
“Dismantling this statue is one step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia and America to come to terms with sin, being ready to destroy black people for economic reasons,” said Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker, removed during a speech before the monument was erected.
The statue of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson came down shortly afterwards.
The city of Charlottesville said in a news release Friday that the statues will be removed and kept until the city council decides where to move them.
The city said it has reached out to museums, historical societies, governments and military battlefields to inquire about their interest in acquiring the statues and has received ten responses so far – six from the state and four from the state.
“We waited more than four years for this day – 100 years really,” said Kristin Szakos, a former Charlottesville City Council member and community activist. “Of course there is still a lot to be done to achieve real racial justice, but that is an important step.”
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City council members voted to dismantle the Lee statue in 2017. Several organizations sued the city to prevent the removal, but the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in the city’s favor.
In August 2017, white racists and neo-Nazi organizers gathered for a “Unite the Right” rally to protest Charlottesville’s decision to remove Lee’s statue. That afternoon, a self-proclaimed white racist rammed his car into a crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 other people.
In 2019 he was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 419 years.
Despite years of litigation, Charlottesville pushed for the statues to be removed. Last April, the Virginia Supreme Court delivered a final verdict in favor of the city, which voted on Wednesday to provide funding for the removal.
Take ‘Em Down Cville, a coalition of racial justice activists, hailed the decision in a statement Friday.
“This is an important milestone in Charlottesville’s difficult, ongoing work to tear down the remaining structures of institutional racism that are widespread in the systems and practices of our community,” the coalition said. “Today we re-commit to building a community that renounces this cause, rejects white supremacy, and values the lives of blacks.”
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The news comes after protesters toppled statues of colonizers and slaveholders in the United States last year. More than 90 Confederate monuments were dismantled or removed from public places in 2020 following the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police force, and about 700 remain on data from the Southern Poverty Law Center released earlier this year.
Statues of Christopher Columbus were also examined carefully. Columbus undertook four expeditions to the Caribbean and South America over two decades, enslaved and decimated the local population and opened the floodgates of European colonization. Officials – and in some cases demonstrators – have dismantled several statues of Columbus in the past few months.
In their place, many cities and towns have built new monuments.
Last month, New York City and Newark, New Jersey erected statues of Floyd. Chicago unveiled a memorial to journalist and civil rights activist Ida B. Wells. And in San Francisco, an artist unveiled a new public work on the former site of a statue of Francis Scott Key, the slave owner known for writing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Contribution: The Associated Press