Sarah Rankin, Associated Press, July 10, 2021
Cheers erupted Saturday as a Confederate statue that towered for nearly a century over downtown Charlottesville was carted away by truck from the Virginia city where it had become a flashpoint for racist protests and deadly violence.
It was a day of palpable joy and immense relief for scores of residents and visitors who lined neighboring streets to watch the larger-than-life figure of Gen. Robert E. Lee as it was hoisted from its pedestal and taken — at least for now — to storage.
The statue’s removal came more than five years after racial justice activists had renewed a push to take down the monument, an initiative that drew the attention of white supremacists and other racist groups, culminating in the violent “Unite the Right” rally in 2017.
Work to remove Lee’s statue, and one of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson shortly after, proceeded peacefully and without interruption. It was a project held up for years by a long, winding legal fight coupled with changes in a state law that protected war memorials.
Also removed Saturday was a statue depicting Sacagawea, and explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, which has been criticized for a depiction of the Native American guide and interpreter some view as subservient and weak.
Couples, families with small children and activists looked on Saturday. The crowd intermittently chanted and cheered as progress was made fairly quickly. Hymns at one point wafted down the street as musicians performed from the front steps of a church.
The most recent push focused on removing the Lee monument began in 2016, thanks partly to a petition started by a Black high school student, Zyahna Bryant. After the City Council voted to remove it, a lawsuit was quickly filed, putting the plans on hold. White supremacists then began to seize on the issue.
“To the young people out there, I hope that this empowers you to speak up on the issues that matter, and to take charge in your own cities and communities,” Bryant said, standing beside Mayor Nikuyah Walker while addressing the crowd before removal work began. “No platform for white supremacy. No platform for racism. And no platform for hate.”
“It’s quite a day. It’s just a feeling of relief to see that statue be dragged out of here backwards and back into history where it belongs,” Rabbi Tom Gutherz of the nearby Congregation Beth Israel said after the truck rumbled off, taking the Jackson monument away.