Posted on December 7, 2021

Charlottesville Gives Lee Statue to Jefferson School, Which Plans to Melt It

Ginny Bixby, Daily Progress, December 7, 2021

In a historic vote early Tuesday morning, Charlottesville’s City Council voted unanimously to donate the city’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which plans to melt the statue.

The Jefferson School’s proposal outlines a plan to melt down the Lee statue into ingots and use the bronze to create a new work of public art through an extensive community engagement process. This sculpture will then be gifted to the city for installation on public land. The Jefferson School’s proposal was the only local proposal for ownership of the Lee statue that the city received. City Council will decide the fates of the other two statues on Dec. 20, which will be Mayor Nikuyah Walker and councilor Heather Hill’s last meeting.

The council initially decided to table the vote due to Vice Mayor Sena Magill’s absence, which was due to a family emergency, and disagreements on the disposition of the city’s statues of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Shoshone interpreter Sacajawea. All three statues were removed by the city in July. However, after members of the public voiced their frustration with the delay, the councilors agreed to vote on disposition of the Lee statue only. The vote took place minutes after midnight.


Andrea Douglas, Executive Director of the Jefferson School, told The Daily Progress in October that she and her colleagues had spent months ironing out the details of the proposal.

“The idea that a community could take the implements of war and turn them into plowshares or implements of social good is really what’s behind this. So, when we think about the project, it is about transformation, taking something that is symbolically traumatic and turning it into something that responds to the cultural values of Charlottesville,” Douglas said.

Councilor Michael Payne said it was the only proposal for acquisition of the Lee statue that he would support. Snook voiced concerns whether it was feasible for the museum to actually melt the statue and how big of a financial gift the statue would be.

Councilors primarily disagreed on the disposition of the Lewis, Clark and Sacajawea statue. The Lewis and Clark Exploratory Center has been in consideration by the city for ownership of the statue since before it was removed. Executive Director Alexandria Searls submitted a proposal for recontextualizing the statue that includes bringing awareness to the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women. The statue would be juxtaposed against Native American art and items in the museum’s collection related to the exhibition. Searls has worked with members of the Shoshone tribe for several years to discuss appropriate interpretation of the statue and other representations of Sacajawea.


Several community members spoke in support of the Jefferson School proposal at the meeting. Charlottesville Human Rights Commission chair Mary Bauer shared the commission’s position on the proposal.

“This proposal best speaks to the values of equity and racial justice that the Human Rights Commission was created to advance and we urge you to select it,” Bauer said.

Lisa Draine, the mother of a survivor of the car attack at the Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12, 2017, spoke in support of the Jefferson School proposal. She said her daughter, a University of Virginia student at the time, was severely injured in the deadly car attack that killed Heather Heyer.

“For four years, I’ve driven by the Lee statue reliving that awful weekend that my family and our community endured … Last summer when the Lee and Jackson monuments finally came down, I breathed a sigh of relief but I knew we weren’t done,” Draine said.