A Confederate monument that helped spark a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., nearly four years ago has been hoisted off its stone pedestal.
Work to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee began early Saturday morning shortly after Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker gave a speech in front of reporters and observers as a crane neared the monument.
The removal of the statue of the Confederate general follows years of contention, community anguish and litigation. A long, winding legal fight coupled with changes in a state law that protected war memorials had held up the removal for years.
Saturday’s removal came after violence erupted at the infamous “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017. Heather Heyer, a peaceful counterprotester, died in the violence, which sparked a debate in the U.S. over racial equity, further inflamed by now-former president Donald Trump’s insistence that there was “blame on both sides.”
Crews were also expected to take down a second Confederate monument depicting Confederate general Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. The city announced its plans to hoist away the statues Friday.
Only the statues, not their stone pedestals, were to be removed. Plans called for them to be taken down and stored in a secure location until the city council makes a final decision about what should be done with them. Under state law, the city was required to solicit parties interested in taking the statues during an offer period that ended Thursday. It received 10 responses to its solicitation.
“Already, six groups have shown interest in acquiring the statues and bronzes that will be removed,” said
Steven Rousseau is a Canadian from Quebec’s Saguenay region who’s overseeing the project for a company awarded the contract to remove the monuments.
Each monument weighs “between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds,” he said in telephone interview with Radio-Canada on Friday evening.
A coalition of activists commended the city for moving quickly to take the statues down after the offer period ended. As long as the statues “remain standing in our downtown public spaces, they signal that our community tolerated white supremacy and the Lost Cause these generals fought for,” the coalition called Take ‘Em Down Cville said.
The most recent removal push focused on the Lee monument began in 2016, thanks in part to a petition started by a Black high school student, Zyahna Bryant. A lawsuit was quickly filed, putting the city’s plans on hold, and white supremacists seized on the issue.
“This is a crucial first step in the right direction to tell a more historically accurate and complete story of this place and the people who call this place home. The work did not start here and it will not end here,” Bryant, now a student at the University of Virginia, said in a statement.