A Black museum plans to melt down Charlottesville Robert E. Lee statue to create new art

A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that stood in the heart of Charlottesville, Virginia, for almost a century will be melted down into bronze ingots that will be used to create new public art.

A Black museum plans to melt down Charlottesville Robert E. Lee statue to create new art
© John McDonnell/Washington Post/Getty Images A statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee is lifted off its pedestal in Market Street Park in Charlottesville, Virginia, on July 10, 2021.

The City Council voted 4-to-0 early Tuesday to hand over the statue to a local bidder, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which is housed in what was once Charlottesville’s only high school for Black students.

“I think the goal for us when we started this process was to take something that has been traumatic in our community, a symbol of racism, and turn it into something that can cause our community to heal,” the center’s Executive Director Andrea Douglas told CNN.

Douglas said the center will work with the community to find out what people want in their public spaces and then commission the new artwork.

“We are hoping that this process will be the complete antithesis to the process that put the [Lee] statue in our community to being with,” she said.

The center will take the statue to a foundry in early 2022 to have it melted down.

“We’ll do that immediately. It’s the first thing we’re going to do,” Douglas said.

She said they hope the project will be complete by 2024, the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of the Lee statue.

Charlottesville voted to take down the Lee statue in 2017, but it was not removed until July 2021. Statues of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson and explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and Sacagawea were also removed.

White nationalists marched in Charlottesville to protest the removal of the Lee statue in 2017 and a counterprotester was killed in the subsequent violence. Last month, a jury awarded $26 million in damages after finding the White nationalists who organized and participated in the rally liable on a state conspiracy claim and other claims.

The Southern Poverty Law Center says more than 160 Confederate monuments were removed in the United States in 2020.

Charlottesville has not decided what to do with the statues of Jackson, or Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea.

Douglas said the project, called “Swords into Plowshares,” will cost about $1.1 million and the center has raised about half of the needed funds.

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