Speed Reads

Forging ahead

Charlottesville votes to give Robert E. Lee statue to Black heritage museum that will melt it down

After a four-year legal battle, punctuated by the violent "Unite the Right" rally in 2017, the city of Charlottesville, Virginia, removed statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson in July. The Charlottesville City Council vote 4-0 early Tuesday to donate the Lee statue to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which will melt it down and recast it into new pieces of public art. 

The city solicited bids for the discarded statues, and of the six formal requests it received, the Black-led museum was the only local organization to ask for the monuments. Charlottesville lawmakers, and dozens outside groups and community members, also insisted they would not allow the statues to be used to celebrate the Confederacy's "Lost Cause," especially after groups of white supremacists gathered in August 2017 to protest the Lee statue's removal. One Neo-Nazi attending the rally ran his car through a crowd of counterprotestors, killing 32-year-old Heather Hoyer. 

The Jefferson School museum plans to "create something that transforms what was once toxic in our public space into something beautiful that can be more reflective of our entire community's social values," said executive director Andrea Douglas. She told The Washington Post that this "Swords Into Plowshares" project "will allow Charlottesville to contend with its racist past" and take "something that had been harmful and transforming it into something that is representative of the city's values today." 

The museum has raised about $590,000 of its $1.1 million goal for the project. It will consult Charlottesville residents on the parameters for the project, then impanel a jury to pick the final concept for the public art piece, which will be donated back to the city in 2024. Charlottesville lawmakers are set to vote Dec. 20 on the fate of the Jackson monument.

Cities and states have taken down dozens of Confederate monuments over the past several years, but there has been no consensus on what to do with them once they are removed. Some are donated to museums or private collectors, while others, like a massive Lee statue dissected and warehoused in Richmond in September, are decommissioned. 

On Sunday, outgoing Gov. Ralph Northam's (D) office said the 40-foot-tall, graffiti-covered granite pedestal that had supported Richmond's Lee statue will also be removed this month and placed in storage until the state can work out a permanent destination.