Charlottesville council gives city’s Gen. Lee statue to Jefferson School African American Center

City council in Charlottesville, Virginia has voted to give its statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to a museum that plans to melt the towering relic
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The toppled Charlottesville statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee will be melted down and the bronze will be forged into a new exhibit at a black-themed museum across town.

Charlottesville’s City Council voted Monday to give the 12-ton statue  to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which will remold it into a new piece of public art that ‘expresses the city’s values of inclusivity and racial justice.’

‘Our hope… is to create something that transforms what was once toxic in our public spaces into something beautiful and more reflective of our entire community’s social values,’ Andrea Douglas, the museum’s executive director, said in a video statement. 

‘It is a community-based project, that all of the voices of our community 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.’

The museum, whose stated mission is to honor and preserve the rich heritage and legacy of the African-American community of the Charlottesville-Albemarle region, is about half a mile away from the park that once housed the controversial statue.

City council in Charlottesville, Virginia has voted to give its statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to a museum that plans to melt the towering relic

The statue was removed in September and was kept in storage until council determined how to dispose of the controversial relic

The statue was removed in September and was kept in storage until council determined how to dispose of the controversial relic

Other cities are also grappling with what to do with statues of once-revered figures.

In New York, The American Museum of Natural History covered the controversial statue of President Theodore Roosevelt ahead of its long-term loan to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in North Dakota, which is set to open in 2026. 

It had long been criticized for its depiction of Roosevelt on horseback alongside a black man and Native American, which critics have said signifies a racial hierarchy in which Roosevelt stands higher than the other two.  

Last month, a statue of Thomas Jefferson was removed from New York’s City Hall via the back door after 187 years in the chamber because workers complained the slave-owning third president made them uncomfortable. 

The Public Design Commission approved plans in mid November to relocate the statue to the New York Historical Society after a lengthy October hearing.

It will be placed in its lobby gallery for six months before being relocated to the museum’s reading room for the duration of the 10-year loan agreement, both areas of which are free for public viewing, according to the New York Times.

The Thomas Jefferson statue (pictured) was removed from its pedestal inside the City Council chambers yesterday last month

The Thomas Jefferson statue (pictured) was removed from its pedestal inside the City Council chambers yesterday last month

In September, Maryland officials voted to remove the state’s last Confederate statue on public land.

The Talbot Boys statue, located on the lawn outside the Talbot County Courthouse, commemorates more than 80 soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. It will be moved to a Virginia battleground more than 200 miles away. 

In June, the House voted to remove the bust of Chief Justice Roger Taney and statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and others who supported the Confederacy from the U.S. Capitol. 

Lawmakers passed a bill which will also remove the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis (center) from the Capitol

Lawmakers passed a bill which will also remove the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis (center) from the Capitol

Democrats were unanimous in their support for the bill and were joined by 67 Republicans, with the bill passed by a vote of 285-120.

The 120 GOP members who voted against the bill said it was a bid to whitewash history, accused the Democrats of being ‘animated by Critical Race Theory’ and opposed swapping the bust of Taney with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall because he voted for Roe v. Wade.

The Lee statue came down September 8 following years of contention.

The Charlottesville council voted to remove it in February 2017 at the behest of Zyahna Bryant, a black high school student who started a petition. 

A lawsuit was quickly filed, putting the city´s plans on hold, and protestors who believed the statue should be preserved seized on the issue.

The issue reached a crescendo in August of that year, when organizers of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally gathered in the city to defend the statue of Lee.

The statue was awarded to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which said in its proposal that it will remold it into a a new piece of public art that 'expresses the city's values of inclusivity'

The statue was awarded to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which said in its proposal that it will remold it into a a new piece of public art that ‘expresses the city’s values of inclusivity’

Museum executive director Andrea Douglas said the hope 'is to create something that transforms what was once toxic in our public spaces into something beautiful and more reflective of our entire community's social values'

Museum executive director Andrea Douglas said the hope ‘is to create something that transforms what was once toxic in our public spaces into something beautiful and more reflective of our entire community’s social values’

They seized on the issue for publicity, meeting in what was the largest gathering of extremists in at least a decade. They brawled in the streets with anti-racist counter-protesters as police largely stood by and watched.

Soon after, James Alex Fields, Jr – an avowed white supremacist and admirer of Adolf Hitler – intentionally plowed his car into a crowd of people, killing Heather Heyer, 32, and leaving others injured. 

America’s largest Confederate statue was removed from its pedestal in September to the sound of ‘Black Lives Matter’ chants and crowds singing ‘Na Na Hey Hey Goodbye.’

Charlottesville voted to remove the statue in 2017, but some opposed the decision, saying the historical artifact should be preserved. The issue reached a crescendo in August 2017, when organizers of the 'Unite the Right' rally gathered in the city to defend the statue

Charlottesville voted to remove the statue in 2017, but some opposed the decision, saying the historical artifact should be preserved. The issue reached a crescendo in August 2017, when organizers of the ‘Unite the Right’ rally gathered in the city to defend the statue

Neo-Nazis seized on the issue for publicity, meeting in what was the largest gathering of extremists in at least a decade

Neo-Nazis seized on the issue for publicity, meeting in what was the largest gathering of extremists in at least a decade

The 21-foot-tall bronze statute of Lee atop a horse was initially sent to the Goochland Women’s Correctional Center in Virginia until officials decided what to do with it permanently. 

It received several proposals from organizations that wished to take possession of the statue, including LAXART, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that hoped to transform the piece into a new work of art.

The Ratcliffe Foundation sought to preserve the statue in a ‘more appropriate historical setting.

A Utopia, Texas, father of four offered the city $10,000 for the statue, which he sought to acquire for his ‘private, personal collection.’

Charlottesville received several proposals from organizations and individuals keen to take in the statue;  while some sought to destroy and repurpose the relic, others sought to preserve it

Charlottesville received several proposals from organizations and individuals keen to take in the statue;  while some sought to destroy and repurpose the relic, others sought to preserve it

As the submitter of the successful proposal, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center will strive to bring community healing through creativity, Douglas said.

‘I think this project offers a road map for communities who are also grappling with what to do with their statues,’ she said. ‘It’s taking something that was static, it’s molding and melding it into a new substance, and then having a community dialogue with an artist about how to transform the material into something new.

‘The process itself is change making.’  

 The Lee statue was the latest in a number of Confederate relics to be removed amidst the Black Lives Matter movement and renewed calls for racial equity.

In New York City, the American Museum of Natural History’s statue of former President Teddy Roosevelt has been covered up as it awaits a new home. It had long been criticized for its depiction of Roosevelt on horseback alongside a black man and Native American, which critics have said signifies a racial hierarchy in which Roosevelt stands higher than the other two.

The controversial statue of Theodore Roosevelt on the front steps of the American Museum of Natural History has been blocked from view

The controversial statue of Theodore Roosevelt on the front steps of the American Museum of Natural History has been blocked from view 

Over the years, the statue has been defaced by activists calling for its removal

Over the years, the statue has been defaced by activists calling for its removal 

Objections to the statue grew more forceful in recent years, especially after the murder of George Floyd that sparked a racial reckoning and a wave of protests across the US.

While opposition to the statue has reached an all-time high, others were upset by the statue’s impending removal. It has been covered by sheeting as it awaits a long-term loan transfer to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Medora, North Dakota, which is set to open in 2026.

In Virginia, the last vestiges of Lee’s statues are being removed this week as crews take down the graffiti-covered plinth the statue once stood on.

Preliminary work at the site in Richmond got underway yesterday and the plinth is expected to be completely removed by December 31, Governor Ralph Northam said in a statement.

The plinth was defaced with graffiti in May 2020 as protests over the death of George Floyd continued

The plinth was defaced with graffiti in May 2020 as protests over the death of George Floyd continued

The pedestal that once held the statue stands empty, and will be removed by December 31

The pedestal that once held the statue stands empty, and will be removed by December 31

A construction crew erected scaffolding around the pedestal on Monday afternoon, one of the first steps in a process expected to take several weeks.

It’s possible that the removal of the stand could finally reveal a ‘time capsule’ from 1887, rumored to have been buried under the statue when it was erected, which is thought to contain Civil War relics and a photo of Abraham Lincoln. 

Officials in September called off the search for the capsule after just 12 hours of digging.

Crews removed up to 8,000 pounds of granite blocks from the base of the 40-foot-high concrete pedestal on September 9 in search of the copper box filled with historical treasures before an aide for Northam called it a night and said the search was over.

‘After a long hard day, it’s clear the time capsule won’t be found — and Virginia is done with lost causes,’ chief communications officer for the governor Grant Neely told the Richmond Times-Dispatch. ‘The search for this moldy Confederate box is over. We’re moving on.’

Who was Confederate general and slave owner Robert E. Lee? 

A portrait of Confederate general Robert E. Lee

A portrait of Confederate general Robert E. Lee

Robert E. Lee was a decorated Confederate general.

He joined the army in 1825, and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1829. 

He married Mary Anna Randolph Custis, the only daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington, in 1831. 

Lee first saw action with the American military in Mexico in 1846. He later served as major general of Virginia’s state forces. 

He inherited the Virginia mansion when his father-in-law died in 1857, leaving Lee to manage the large estate.

The estate was in disarray and Lee ended up taking a two year leave of absence from the army to re-organize the flailing plantation.

He had extremely strict expectations of his slaves and exacted harsh punishments for those who fell short. 

His efforts led to near slave revolts on site, especially as many believed they would be released on Custis’ death.

In 1859, Lee severely punished three slaves – Wesley Norris, his sister Mary, and a cousin of theirs – after they tried to escape the plantation. 

A newspaper at the time claimed Lee had them whipped once they were captured and returned to Virginia. 

Mary received 20 lashes while the two men received 50 before the pair were sent to work on railroads in Virginia and Alabama. 

Many of the 200 slaves he had inherited were either sold to traders or jailed by Lee and by 1860, only one family remained intact.  

He is believed to have told his son in 1868:  ‘You will never prosper with the blacks, and it is abhorrent to a reflecting mind to be supporting and cherishing those who are plotting and working for your injury, and all of whose sympathies and associations are antagonistic to yours.’ 

After the Civil War, Lee resisted efforts to build Confederate monuments in his honor and instead wanted the nation to move on from the Civil War.

After his death, Southerners adopted ‘The Lost Cause’ revisionist narrative about the Civil War and placed Lee as its central figure. The Last Cause argued the South knew it was fighting a losing war and decided to fight it anyway on principle. It also tried to argue that the war was not about slavery but high constitutional ideals.

As The Lost Cause narrative grew in popularity, proponents pushed to memorialize Lee, ignoring his deficiencies as a general and his role as a slave owner. Lee monuments went up in the 1920s just as the Ku Klux Klan was experiencing a resurgence and new Jim Crow segregation laws were adopted.

The Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, went up in 1924. A year later, the U.S. Congress voted to use federal funds to restore the Lee mansion in the Arlington National Cemetery.

The U.S. Mint issued a coin in his honor, and Lee has been on five postage stamps. No other Union figure besides President Abraham Lincoln has similar honors. 

A generation after the civil rights movement, black and Latino residents began pressuring elected officials to dismantle Lee and other Confederate memorials in places like New Orleans, Houston and South Carolina. 

The removals partly were based on violent acts committed white supremacists using Confederate imagery and historians questioning the legitimacy of The Lost Cause.

A Gen. Robert E. Lee statue was removed from Lee Circle in New Orleans as the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote.

The Houston Independent School District also voted in 2016 to rename Robert E. Lee High School, a school with a large Latino population, as Margaret Long Wisdom High School.

In this June 30, 2015, photo, activists gather around the Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee statute at Lee Park chanting the names of Civil War era activists in Dallas

In this June 30, 2015, photo, activists gather around the Confederate Army Gen. Robert E. Lee statute at Lee Park chanting the names of Civil War era activists in Dallas

The Charlottesville, Virginia, City Council voted to remove its Lee statue from a city park, sparking a lawsuit from opponents of the move. The debate also drew opposition from white supremacists and neo-Nazis who revered Lee and the Confederacy. 

Monuments and memorials to Lee remain hugely controversial. Currently Virginia’s Supreme Court is hearing arguments on whether the state has the right to take down a statue of Lee on a horse in Richmond.

The monument, which depicts the controversial general mounted on a horse, was dedicated in 1890 and has been the topic of fierce debate in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy, for decades. Protesters gathered around the monument last year and defaced it with graffiti and spray paint decrying the death of George Floyd. 

In December, a statue of Lee in the U.S. Capitol was removed and replaced with one of civil rights pioneer Barbara Johns. It was removed after Virginia Governor Ralph Northam requested it be swapped because Lee was not seen as a fitting symbol for the state. 

There has also been calls to change the name of military bases, including one named after Lee – Fort Lee -, that bear the names of slave owners.

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