Charlottesville to take down Robert E. Lee statue that was focus of deadly rally

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A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that was the focal point of the deadly 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. will be removed from its pedestal and put in storage this weekend, officials announced Friday.

Statues of Lee and another Confederate general, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, are due to come down Saturday — nearly four years after violence erupted at the “Unite the Right” rally to protest its planned removal.

Amid the chaos, 22-year-old James Fields Jr. rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring more than two dozen others. Fields pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges in March 2019 and was sentenced to life in prison that June.

The violence made national headlines, as did then-President Donald Trump’s insistence that there was “blame on both sides” for the bloodshed. The riot also kick-started an ongoing nationwide debate over the presence of Confederate monuments in cities and towns across the country.

The Charlottesville City Council voted in February 2017 to take down the Lee statue amid mounting public pressure, including a petition started by a black high school student, Zyahna Bryant. A lawsuit was quickly filed, putting the city’s plans on hold and attracting the attention of white nationalist and neo-Confederate groups.

After the riot, the spotlight moved off Charlottesville, but the Lee and Jackson statues, which were erected in the 1920s, remained standing. Last year, Democrats in control of Virginia’s General Assembly amended state law to allow local authorities to remove Confederate war memorials if they wished.

Charlottesville, however, waited for the resolution of the lawsuit, which came in April when the Supreme Court of Virginia sided with the city. Since then, the city government has been working its way through the requirements of the new state law, including holding a public hearing and offering the statue to a museum or historical society for possible relocation.

The offer period for Charlottesville’s statues ended Thursday, and officials say they will be stored in a secure location on city property until the City Council makes a final decision about their fate. The stone bases of the monuments will be left in place temporarily and removed later.

The activist group Take ’Em Down Cville celebrated the statues’ removal, saying in a statement that 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”.

City officials have said they plan to redesign the park spaces where the statues are located “in a way that promotes healing and that tells a more complete history of Charlottesville.”

With Post wires

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