Charlottesville approves plan to remove statue of Sacagawea with Lewis and Clark

Published: Nov. 15, 2019 at 3:47 PM EST
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Charlottesville City Council is moving forward on a plan to remove a statue on West Main Street, near the Downtown Mall.

Representatives from the Shoshone Tribe met with city leaders for a work session at the Carver Recreation Center on Friday, November 15. Councilors heard from descendants of Sacagawea over what to do with the statue of the guide who helped explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

"This morning, I went out there to look at that statue. It did not make me feel good at all," descendant Emma George said.

Two Native American tribes argued that the statue is inaccurate, offensive, and should be removed.

"Native people in Virginia need no longer to be invisible. Once this image is removed, and once it is out of sight, it will bring a growth to people," descendant Ann Abrahamson said.

"We've been out of balance in this community for a long time. We're usually having that conversation just in terms of black and white, but that imbalance started way before the discussion that we're usually talking about," Mayor Nikuyah Walker said.

City Council was considering several options, but decided to remove the statute from the street entirely. Councilors voted 4-0; councilor Mike Signer was not present.

"You have to be bold and audacious, and it may be very uncomfortable," Walker said.

City Hall staff will come up with a plan for removal of the statue, as well as get cost estimates.

Councilors are expected to talk about this issue again at their meeting Monday, November 18.


Jun. 18

At a meeting Monday evening, Charlottesville City Council discussed the removal of the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue on Main Street, as well as possibly ending the city's celebration of Thomas Jefferson's birthday as a city holiday.

City Council was originally going to vote on whether or not a commission should be formed to decide the fate of the Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea statue on Main Street. They ultimately voted against putting resources toward forming the commission. Instead, they voted on creating a work session made up of Native Americans to get their input.

The $75,000 that was originally going to be allocated for the commission will now go towards travel, hotel, food, and meeting expenses for the Native Americans that will come to the city and voice their opinions.

Mayor Nikuyah Walker said the decision needs to be made on not just removing the statue but making a statue that better represents Sacajawea like how other cities have done. Walker pulled up a picture of a Native American woman statue in South Dakota titled "Dignity: of Earth and Sky."

"If we're at a place where we're talking about moving something,” said Walker, “and there's going to be a cost to move it, and we're talking about something that really should stand in the center of our city, should it continue to be that, or should it be something like this."

Grace Hays, a Native American from Charlottesville, spoke in front of council on why Native Americans’ opinions need to be considered in this decision. Hays said that the statue pained her when she first saw it.

"When you get close to her face, you kind of see that she looks concerned at the very least,” said Hays. “Maybe afraid. She's crouching, she's hiding, she's there with her baby. I have my feelings about the statue. I also feel like her family, her descendants' feelings, are really the most important in terms of how she's portrayed."

The work session is scheduled to come together sometime in the fall.

Also discussed at the meeting was a heated discussion between council members on whether or not to remove Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, April 13, as a city holiday, and add Freedom and Liberation Day as a holiday on March 3.

There were concerns about whether Freedom and Liberation Day will be a Friday-Monday holiday or a holiday to celebrate on the day.

Wes Bellamy and Nikuyah Walker were adamant about adding Liberation Day and removing Thomas Jefferson’s day, noting his slave ownership.

"Thomas Jefferson already has 365 holidays and I do think that is the case here in Charlottesville," said Bellamy. "You literally can't go anywhere within our city without hearing or seeing a reminder of Thomas Jefferson."

Kathy Galvin did not want to remove celebrating Thomas Jefferson, noting his other contributions to the country and area.

"Doing away with Thomas Jefferson's birthday doesn't do away with the history," said Galvin. "That birthday is still here. What he has done in the past is there."

Council decided to vote on the holidays at their next meeting, July 1.