The Charlottesville statue of Robert. E. Lee, once at the center of a violent Unite the Right demonstration, will be melted down and turned into a new piece of public art after the City Council voted to remove it this past July.
The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center plans to turn the statue of the confederate general into a new work, but they have not decided on a design.
Leaders wrote on an Indiegogo page that they wish to “transform a national symbol of white supremacy into a new work of art that will reflect racial justice and inclusion.”
There was a unanimous vote for the Charlottesville statue to be removed after a deadly Neo-Nazi rally in 2017. One counter-protester, Heather Heyer, was killed after a man drove his car through a crowd of people, injuring a dozen others. The Ohio man, James Fields Jr., was later sentenced to life in prison.
Virginia’s Supreme Court’s also authorized the removal of another Confederate era statue, as well as a statue of explorers Lewis and Clarke that depicted a “subservient” image of Shoshone Native American Sacagawea that many believe was offensive.
Andrea Douglas, the African American Heritage Center’s executive director, announced that the artwork will be helmed by Swords Into Plowshares, a “community-based project” that “will be able to articulate what we want in our public spaces, as opposed to objects that were given to our community that highlighted a particular ideology that we no longer share.”
“It allows us to understand that history is being made today,” Douglas said in a video explaining the project. “As we create change, we are in fact creating history.”
Though many felt that the statue represented a racist history of our country’s past, critics who supported the statue remain in place argued that it removed a tourist destination in the city.
“If you take it down, there’s nothing left to talk about… just an empty space,” Jock Yellott, director of the Monument Fund, told The New York Times. “There’s nothing to take a picture of, no reason for a tourist to come here, and that is a loss to the city.”
Many responded saying that the statue would be replaced by a new work, one that celebrates diversity and inclusivity.
Ironically, Robert E. Lee actually opposed the idea of building public memorials, according to The New York Times. He felt that statues “would just keep open the war’s many wounds.” Regardless, dozens of Confederate statues were erected in his name after his death in 1870.
According to many historians, Robert E. Lee, along with general Stonewall Jackson, were the embodiment of the Confederacy’s wish to secede from the Union. In the post-Reconstruction South following the Civil War, he was treated as a hero by white supremacists, who were no longer allowed to practice the business of slavery on their plantations.
The Virginia park where the Charlottesville statue sat was also renamed from Lee Park to Market Street Park following a petition posted by a ninth grade student.
“It feels good,” said Zyahna Bryant, now a student at the University of Virginia. “It’s been a long time coming.”
However nice the moment, the Charlottesville statue coming down is just “the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “There are larger systems that need to be dismantled. Educational equity is a good place to start.”
Democratic Governor of Virginia Ralph Northam also stated that the pedestal where the statue stood would also be removed by the end of the year, hoping to make the Charlottesville statue project “substantially complete.”
“This land is in the middle of Richmond, and Richmonders will determine the future of this space,” Governor Ralph Northam said. “The Commonwealth will remove the pedestal and we anticipate a safe removal and a successful conclusion to this project.”