The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, which helped spark a deadly white supremacist rally almost four years ago, was taken down Saturday morning. Onlookers cheered as the statue was lifted off its stone pedestal and placed on a truck. The city set up a viewing area and welcomed people to watch the statue be taken down in Market Street Park. “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 before the crane started to remove the statue.
Lee’s statue isn’t the only Confederate monument that came down on Saturday. The city also removed the statue of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
The removal of the Confederate monuments comes after years of controversy and legal challenges. The statues finally came down nearly four years after a plan to remove them sparked a “Unite the Right” rally that joined together neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The protest turned deadly when a white supremacist plowed his car into a crowd of counterprotesters and killed 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injured 19 others. Shortly thereafter, the Charlottesville city council ordered the Jackson statue be removed but legal challenges delayed the move. It was only this past April that Virginia’s highest court overturned a lower court decision and said the city could remove the two Confederate statues.
Activists who had been calling for the removal of the statues praised the city on Friday after it announced the monuments would be coming down. “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 coalition, Take ‘Em Down Cville, said in a statement. ’Charlottesville is removing the statues on Saturday but not their stone pedestals. It’s unclear what will happen to the statues that will be stored in a secure location until the City Council decides what should happen to the monuments. Charlottesville put out a call for expressions of interest “from any museum, historical society, government or military battlefield interested in acquiring the statues, or either of them, for relocation and placement,” the city said. It received 10 responses so far.
One person celebrating the removal of the statues was Zyahna Bryant, who was a high school student in 2016 and started a petition to remove Lee’s statue. “We must not continue to offer platforms and dedicate space to honor white supremacy and the legacies of those who fought to uphold it,” Bryant, now a third-year University of Virginia student, said. “This is a crucial first step in the right direction to tell a more historically accurate and complete story of this place and the people who call this place home.”