Work crews removed a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from its base in a Charlottesville, Virginia, park Saturday morning, marking the summit of a yearslong battle over the fate of Confederate monuments in the city.
A statue of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was also removed from another city park Saturday. Both statues will be put into storage, and their stone bases will be removed at a later date, the city announced Friday.
The Charlottesville City Council passed a resolution on June 7 authorizing City Manager Chip Boyles to cover or take down the statues. The city manager may not destroy or sell the statues under the council’s authorization.
Officials are seeking expressions of interest from museums, historical societies, and other organizations that wish to take possession of the statues. The city had received 10 responses as of Friday, which officials are reviewing.
City officials first received a petition to remove the statues in March 2016. The council, in response, created a commission whose mission was to “provide City Council with options for telling the full story of Charlottesville’s history of race relations and for changing the City’s narrative through its public spaces,” according to the city.
Following a report from the commission recommending the removal, relocation, or added contextualization of the statues, council members passed a resolution expressing their intent to remove the statues on Feb. 6, 2017, after which a group of residents sued the city to stop the statues’ removal.
A state circuit court judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in April 2019, saying that the statues were war memorials and required state authorization to be removed under state law.
The Virginia Supreme Court overruled that decision on April 1, allowing for the statues’ removal at Charlottesville’s direction.
“In the present case, the statues were erected long before there was a statute which both authorized a city’s erection of a war memorial or monument and regulated the disturbance of or interference with that war memorial or monument,” wrote state Supreme Court Justice Bernard Goodwyn in the decision. “The Lee Statue and the Jackson Statue were not erected pursuant to [the aforementioned law] and so, the prohibitions against disturbing or interfering with monuments or memorials erected pursuant to [that law] do not apply to the statues.”
The battle over Charlottesville’s Confederate monuments was at the center of the “Unite the Right” rally in that city in 2017, during which neo-Nazi James Fields Jr. killed Heather Heyer when he ran his car into a crowd of counterprotesters.