The Charlottesville City Council decided on Monday to give a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee to a local heritage center. The statue, which is bronze, will be melted down and converted into new artwork.
The city council debated Monday whether to sell the statue, gift it or keep it. Ultimately, the group voted 4-0 to donate it to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which is located in Charlottesville.
In its offer, submitted to the city council in October, the center said that it would melt down the statue and create “a new work of public art that expresses the City’s values of inclusivity and racial justice.”
“This transformation will be informed by a collaborative and democratic process of community engagement that prioritizes the voices of descendants of enslaved people, extending the dialogues on race that have occurred locally since 2010,” the offer read. “Using this statue’s melted bronze material in a new way will be a powerful symbol of social change.”
While it’s not clear what the new artwork will look like, the center aims to select an artist for the project — titled “Swords Into Plowshares” — by 2024 and have it completed by 2027.
The statue was removed from its pedestal in July, as were two other statues in the city — one of fellow Confederate Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and another of explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark alongside their Native American guide Sacagawea.
The Lee statue had been a source of contention for years. Calls for it to be taken down were renewed in 2017 after the deadly “Unite the Right” rally and in 2020 in the wake of George Floyd’s death and amidst the nation’s reckoning with racial injustice.
Meanwhile, just one state away, a statue of former Confederate general and leader of the Ku Klux Klan Nathan Bedford Forrest was removed from the side of a highway in Tennessee on Tuesday. It had been sitting on private property since 1997 and was the center of debate for years, The Tennessean reported.
By Sophie Reardon