Charlottesville official wants to revisit statues' removal

Published: May. 25, 2020 at 11:14 AM EDT
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A top official in the Virginia city where a white nationalist rally erupted in violence in 2017 has called for renewing discussions about removing two Confederate statues, one of which became the focus of the rally.

In an April email obtained by The Daily Progress, Charlottesville City Manager Tarron Richardson indicated that he wants to hold meetings with the City Council in June to discuss the removal of the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

The newspaper reported that it obtained Richardson’s email through a request under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

Richardson sent the email four days after Gov. Ralph Northam

. The legislation takes effect on July 1, but Charlottesville city leaders have yet to announce any next steps after their years-long effort to remove the city's statues.

Activists have been pushing the city to remove the monuments since 2016, calling them racist.

After the City Council voted in 2017 to remove the Robert E. Lee statue, white supremacists and other far-right extremists gathered in Charlottesville to protest the decision at what was billed as the “Unite the Right” rally. A night before they clashed with counterprotesters, rally participants carrying torches marched through the University of Virginia’s campus, chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans. On August 17, Heather Heyer was killed when a white nationalist plowed a car into a group of counter-protesters.

A judge issued a permanent injunction barring removal of the Lee and Jackson statues, which means the city would have to petition the court to lift the injunction before it can take any action, The Daily Progress reports.

Richardson wants to hold meetings on the statues’ removal after the council approves its budget for fiscal 2021, which it is expected to do on June 1.

City spokesman Brian Wheeler said last week that officials “anticipate being able to engage the community in the process later this summer.”

Virginia, a state that prides itself on its pivotal role in America's early history, is home to more than 220 public memorials to the Confederacy, according to state officials. Among those are some of the nation's most prominent — a collective of five monuments along Richmond's Monument Avenue, a National Historic Landmark.

Critics say the monuments are offensive to black Virginians because they romanticize the Confederacy and ignore its defense of slavery.

Others say removing the monuments amounts to erasing history.