Statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee being taken down in Charlottesville

Work has begun Saturday morning to take down a Confederate monument that helped spark a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, nearly four years ago. A crane was moving into place and workers were preparing to hoist the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee away. 

Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker gave a speech in front of reporters and observers as the crane neared the monument.

“Taking down this statue is one small step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia, and America, grapple with the sin of being willing to destroy Black people for economic gain,” Walker said.

The removal of the statue follows years of contention, community anguish and litigation. A long, winding legal fight coupled with changes in a state law that protected war memorials had held up the removal for years.

Confederate Monuments-Charlottesville
In this August 6, 2018, photo, a No Trespassing sign is displayed in front of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. Steve Helber/AP

 Saturday’s removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee and another of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson will come nearly four years after violence erupted at the infamous “Unite the Right” rally. Heather Heyer, a peaceful counterprotester, died in the violence, which sparked a national debate over racial equity, further inflamed by former President Donald Trump’s insistence that there was “blame on both sides.”

The city announced its plans to hoist away the statues Friday.

Only the statues, not their stone pedestals, will be removed on Saturday. They will be taken down and stored in a secure location until the City Council makes a final decision about what should be done with them. 

Under state law, the city was required to solicit parties interested in taking the statues during an offer period that ended Thursday. It received 10 responses to its solicitation.

A coalition of activists commended the city for moving quickly to take the statues down after the offer period ended. As long as the statues “remain standing in our downtown public spaces, they signal that our community tolerated white supremacy and the Lost Cause these generals fought for,” the coalition called Take ‘Em Down Cville said.

Don Gathers, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Charlottesville, described a feeling of relief, according to CBS’ affiliate in Charlottesville. 

“More than anything else, it’s a feeling of relief that we’ve finally gotten to this point in time, this point in history,” he said. “For our greater Charlottesville community as well as our country.”

The most recent removal push focused on the Lee monument began in 2016, thanks in part to a petition started by a Black high school student, Zyahna Bryant. A lawsuit was quickly filed, putting the city’s plans on hold, and white supremacists seized on the issue.

“This is a crucial first step in the right direction to tell a more historically accurate and complete story of this place and the people who call this place home. The work did not start here and it will not end here,” Bryant, now a student at the University of Virginia, said in a statement.