Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee taken down in Charlottesville

A Confederate monument that helped spark a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, was hoisted off its stone pedestal on Saturday morning. The removal of the statue of General Robert E. Lee statue follows years of contention, community anguish and legal fights. 

A push for removal bubbled up in 2016. The monument then became a rallying cry for white supremacists and other racist groups, culminating in the deadly 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in which peaceful counterprotester Heather Heyer was killed.

Crews have removed a statue of Genera Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson as well. 

At an emergency meeting on Saturday, the Charlottesville City Council also unanimously voted to immediately remove a statue commemorating the Lewis and Clark expedition. That statue depicts Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark’s Native American guide, in a crouching position. According to the Daily Progress, the statue was donated to the city in 1919 by Paul Goodloe McIntire, who also donated the statues of Lee and Jackson.

Confederate Monuments Removed
Workers prepare to remove the monuments of Confederate General Robert E. Lee on Saturday, July 10, 2021, in Charlottesville, Virginia. John C. Clark/AP

A spokesperson for the White House said Saturday that President Biden welcomes the removal of the statues. 

“As President Biden has said, there is a difference between reminders and remembrances of history. The President believes that monuments to Confederate leaders belong in museums, not in public places, and welcomes the removal of the statues today,” the spokesperson said.

The city announced its plans to hoist away the Lee and Jackson statues on Friday. They will be 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.

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. 

In an interview with CBSN on Saturday, Bryant said she was “overwhelmed with pride and joy” to see the statues taken down.

“This is only a first step. It’s a monumental first step, but it’s only a first step,” Bryant said, adding that taking down the statues had to be accompanied with “deeper systemic changes” in arenas such as policing, affordable housing and education. She also argued that removing the monuments would not erase history, as some have claimed, but that “erecting these monuments is whitewashing our history” by honoring Confederate slaveowners.

“We’re no longer offering a platform for white supremacy,” Bryant said about what the removal of statues represents. 

On Saturday, spectators by the dozens lined the blocks surrounding the park that was home to the Lee statue, and a cheer went up as it was lifted off its pedestal. There was a visible police presence, with streets blocked off to vehicular traffic by fencing and heavy trucks.

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.

There were at least a handful of opponents of the removal, including a man who heckled the mayor after her speech, but no visible, organized protester presence.  

Grace Segers contributed to this report.