A statue of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea was removed by workers in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday afternoon within hours of a couple other controversial local sculptures coming down.
Members of the Charlottesville City Council unanimously voted 5-0 in favor of removing the statue of the explorers moments earlier after workers dismantled two Confederate monuments quicker than expected.
Charlottesville hired workers to remove the city’s statues of two Confederate generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, and that crew had taken down both sculptures by around roughly 10 a.m.
Hardly an hour later, the Charlottesville City Council scheduled an emergency meeting to vote on the immediate removal of the Lewis and Clark statue, formally called “Their First View of the Pacific.”
“We are trying to just maximize the opportunity that we have with the crew being in town,” Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker, a political independent elected in 2017, said during the meeting.
Calling it an “unforeseen opportunity,” City Manager Chip Boyles said Charlottesville would be able to get the statue removed immediately with no additional funding needed if its council acted right away.
Workers finishing removing the statue in roughly two hours. As of mid-afternoon, a total of three sculptures – monuments to Lee and Stonewall and the ‘First View’ sculpture – were no longer in sight.
Charlottesville had been close to removing “First View” since 2019, 100 years after it was erected. Eighteen-feet-tall, it shows Lewis and Clark towering over Sacagawea, their indigenous guide and interpreter, as she kneels behind them. The inscription on the pedestal beneath the statue makes no mention of the woman.
“In my personal opinion, I feel that it should just be melted down,” Rose Ann Abrahamson, a descent of Sacagawea, said the hastily called meeting Saturday.
“I feel that it’s entirely offensive and it should be obliterated,” she added. “But if it can be utilized to give a message, to give a greater message to educate the public, that would be an opportunity.”
Charlottesville had been on the verge of removing both Confederate monuments, too, but a series of litigation and other legal issues resulted in them remaining on public display for more than a century.
“First View” will be stored at the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center, which is co-owned by Charlottesville, until the city decides what to do with it next. No hearing date for the matter has been set.
Alexandria Searls, executive director of the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center, said how the sculpture is ultimately interpreted is “highly important” to Native Americans including Shoshone like Sacagawea.
“The way they would like the statue to be interpreted is of paramount importance,” Ms. Searls said of the Shoshone.
“Indigenous women are going missing to an alarming extent. Faces and people are disappearing. And so one of things that this statue in a way interprets is moving beyond sort of the White person fixation on Sacagawea and the way they contextualize her, to a larger view of people who are living today and how they are represented,” she said during the meeting.