Charlottesville, Virginia, announced Friday it will finally remove its monuments to two former Confederate Army generals, Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, starting Saturday.
Erected decades after the Confederacy lost the Civil War, the Lee and Jackson monuments have been on the chopping block since city councilors voted to remove them in February 2017 and September 2017, respectively.
Supporters of the Lee monument infamously protested against its planned removal that August during the “Unite the Right” rally where a participant murdered a counterprotester, Heather Heyer.
Efforts to remove the monuments grew after Heyer’s death, although litigation and other issues led to the bronze equestrian statues to remain standing the last four years.
Charlottesville seemingly cleared its final legal hurdle to removing them in April, when the Virginia Supreme Court issued a ruling that let the city move forward with its plans to take down both monuments.
Members of the Charlottesville City Council subsequently voted once more last month to remove the monuments on or after July 8. The city said in a news release Saturday they will come down July 10.
Only the statues of Lee and Jackson will be removed Saturday, the city said in the news release. Their stone bases will be left in place temporarily and removed at a later date, the news release said.
Charlottesville has not decided what to do with the statues, the news release said. Ten parties – six in Virginia and the others from out of state – have expressed an interest in them, the city said.
Lee and Jackson served as generals for the Confederate Army and fought on behalf of secessionist states that unsuccessfully sought to further perpetuate the forced enslavement of Black people.
Billed as a protest to the planned removal of the Lee monument, “Unite the Right” attracted far-right extremists from around the country, including neo-Nazis and members of various Ku Klux Klan chapters.
Authorities shut down the rally after fights erupted almost instantly between participants and counter-protesters but ultimately proved unable to prevent the related deaths of three people that day.
James Alex Fields of Ohio later drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing Heyer, a 32-year-old legal assistant, and injuring several others. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Two members of the Virginia State Police – Lieutenant H. Jay Cullen, 48, and Trooper-Pilot Berke M. M. Bates, 40, died in a helicopter crash while attempting to provide aerial support that day.
More than 100 Confederate monuments and symbols have been removed from display over the last few years, nearly all in the aftermath of the racially charged murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in May 2020.
Some other Confederate monuments are nearly on their last leg, so to speak. Johnny Ford, a city councilor in Tuskegee, Alabama, said he was behind an effort Wednesday to saw down a statue in the city.
“Johnny Ford was up on a lift, him and another guy, and they were cutting the leg off the statue, trying to take the statue down,” Macon County Sheriff Andre Brunson told NBC affiliate WSFA afterward.
Mr. Ford, an eight-term former Tuskegee mayor, said he was prepared to go to jail or die for the sake of seeing the statue of the Confederate soldier removed. Local media reported he is slated to face criminal charges.