Posted on October 26, 2023

Confederate Monument Melted Down to Create New, More Inclusive Public Art

Debbie Elliott, NPR, October 26, 2023

Communities across the American South have removed Confederate monuments from public spaces in recent years. Some have gone to museums, others are locked away in storage.

But one particularly controversial statue from Charlottesville, Va. is on a different journey — to be transformed into something new.

The massive bronze sculpture of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, in uniform, astride his horse Traveller, stood in a downtown Charlottesville park for nearly a century. It was at the center of a deadly white nationalist rally in 2017, when Neo-Nazis and white supremacists tried to stop the city’s plans to remove the statue.

It came down to cheers in July of 2021.

“Today the statue comes down and we are one small step closer to a more perfect union,” said then-mayor Nikuyah Walker.

Charlottesville prevailed in a protracted legal battle with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and other groups, and donated the Lee statue to a coalition that proposed to melt it down and create a more inclusive public art installation.

“We want to transform something that has been toxic in the Charlottesville community,” says Jalane Schmidt, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia and one the project’s organizers. “We want to transform it into a piece of art that the community can be can be proud of, and gather around and not feel excluded or intimidated.”


Lawsuits to stop the project failed, and last weekend organizers moved forward, with great secrecy, to disassemble and melt down the Lee monument.

The work is being done at an out-of-state foundry. NPR agreed not to reveal its location or the identity of the workers because they fear repercussions.

They use a torch to score the head of the statue, in the pattern of a death mask. Lee’s face falls to floor with a loud clank.

The symbolism is poignant for Andrea Douglas, executive director of the Jefferson School African American Cultural Center in Charlottesville, which is leading the project.

“The act of myth-making that has occurred around Robert E. Lee, removing his face is emblematic of the kind of removal of that kind of myth,” Douglas says.

The project is called Swords into Plowshares, taken from a Bible verse in the book of Isaiah.