Two 100-year-old Confederate statues have been taken down in Charlottesville, Virginia, nearly four years after white supremacists descended on the city to protest efforts to remove the statues.
The monuments to Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were removed early Saturday morning (July 17) after a unanimous city council vote. Hours later, a third statue depicting Meriwether Lewis, William Clark, and Sacagawea was also removed.
National Public Radio reports that the city of Charlottesville has not yet decided what to do with the statues, but that 10 groups have already expressed interest in the statues of Lee and Jackson. The city is also considering giving the Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea statue to the Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center. According to NBC News, their stone bases will be left standing and will be disposed of “at a later date.”
“Taking down this statue is one small step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia, and America, grapple with the sin of being willing to destroy Black people for economic gain,” Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said to a crowd that had gathered to watch Lee’s statue be removed.
White supremacists, chanting antisemitic slurs, descended on the city in August 2017 as part of the Unite the Right Rally to protest removal of Lee’s and Jackson’s statues. Confrontations between neo-Nazis and antiracist protesters resulted in dozens of injuries and the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer — killed when a driver used his vehicle to plow through pedestrians.
NPR reports that these statues were erected during the early 1920s in historically Black neighborhoods, with large ceremonies and celebrations in an effort to “valorize the Confederacy and suppress Black communities.”
“This period of construction coincided with more Black Americans’ fighting for civil rights and pushing back against widespread lynchings in the South,” FiveThirtyEight reported last year amid a national reckoning for racial justice.
Four other Confederate statues in the state’s capital of Richmond were removed last year, but another even taller statue of Lee still stands in Richmond. Efforts to remove it are underway.
Because the statue removal reportedly went “smoothly” on July 17, City Manager Chip Boyles said they called an emergency meeting to also remove the statue of Lewis, Clark, and Sacagawea. The statue depicts the Indigenous interpreter sitting and hunched behind Lewis and Clark. One of her descendants, Dustina Abrahamson, told NPR in 2019 that it makes Sacagawea look “cowardly.”
“It depicts our ancestor as if she was a dog going along on the trip,” Abrahamson said.
It is unclear where the statue will go, as the city is processing through a number of options for its relocation. Abrahamson’s mother, Rose Ann Abrahamson, told the city council at the end of their emergency meeting that she thinks the statue should be “melted down,” according to NPR.
“I feel that it’s entirely offensive and it should be obliterated,” she said. “But if it can be utilized to give a message — to give a greater message — to educate the public, that would be an opportunity. So I’m very pleased with what is taking place, and it’s been a long road.”