After a historic and unanimous vote to remove the Confederate statues located in downtown parks, members of the Charlottesville City Council are weighing options for what should be done with the statues once they’re taken down.
The city will be able to remove the statues of Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson after a 30-day waiting period required by Virginia statute. What has not yet been determined is whether the statues will be sent to a museum, battlefield or similar entity or if they will be demolished.
In April, the Supreme Court of Virginia sided with the city in its appeal of a Charlottesville Circuit Court ruling that found that the council violated state code when it voted to remove the statues in 2017. The high court ruled in part that a previous law preventing the removal of war monuments did not apply to statues erected before 1997, a view long held by city officials.
The city posted a Request for Statements of Interest on its website following its latest vote on June 7, offering to transfer ownership of one or both statues “to an entity, upon terms deemed by City Council to be appropriate and advantageous.” The offer is extended to any museum, historical society, government or military battlefield interested in acquiring the statues.
This Request for Statements of Interest is mandated by the state. However, the City Council is not required to transfer the statues to another entity. Councilors can vote against this after reviewing the proposals.
After the 30-day period ends July 7 and all statements of interests are received, the council will be tasked with deciding how the statue removal should be handled and whether the statues should be transferred or demolished.Councilor Heather Hill said she sees removing the statues from public view as soon as possible as the first priority. She also said she would not be content with the statues being moved to a battlefield and wants to see more contextualization if they are relocated. Albemarle County chose to send its Confederate statue to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation when it was
removed in September.
“The story of why they are no longer in our parks is really important and should be part of any contextualization if that were the direction that we would go,” Hill said.
Hill said the City Council has received a lot of interesting suggestions from community members about what to do with the statues, and wants to thoroughly consider all of the options that have been presented.
She said it’s important to consider whether there is an environment where the statues can be appropriately contextualized, or if that is not possible.
“One citizen brought forward the idea of sending the statues to a museum in the Midwest that focuses on the Jim Crow era. There’s certainly something about that that could really be interesting to consider because that would certainly be able to contextualize [the statues] in a unique way,” Hill said.
Councilor Michael Payne also said it’s important to consider whether it is possible to relocate the statues without them continuing to celebrate the Confederacy.
“From my perspective, the top priority in determining the final disposition of the statues is ensuring they don’t end up in a location where they can be venerated and celebrated as symbols of either the Confederacy or the events of Aug. 11 and 12, ,” said Payne.
“To do so would uphold the statues as symbols of the Lost Cause, just in a different location. Likewise, doing so would fail to properly acknowledge how these statues are now inextricably bound up with the white supremacist terrorist attack on Aug. 12.”
Payne supports an idea brought forward by several members of the public to put public art in the spaces where the statues currently stand.
“When determining the final disposition, the only options I’d consider would be ones that transform these statues into pieces of public art that actively undermine Lost Cause narratives. If no options exist that accomplish this, I believe it best to remove them from public view,” Payne said.
“I think we need to take this opportunity to use the public spaces in Market Street and Court Square parks to create new public art that tells a fundamentally different story than the story Confederate statues convey,” he said.
Payne suggested Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” as an example of what this kind of public art could look like.
Wiley was commissioned by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to create the statue as a response to the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue in Richmond. The statue is of a Black man in modern attire seated atop a horse in motion.
According to the VMFA website, “the bronze sculpture commemorates African American youth lost to the social and political battles being waged throughout our nation.”
For Charlottesville, “We have set aside $1 million for removal of the statues and for putting something in their places,” Councilor Lloyd Snook said. “We have an estimate that it will cost us $680,000 to move the statues. That would leave us $320,000 to put something in their places. But if someone were to take the statues away at no cost to the city, we would have $1 million to commission and install some public art that could be truly transformative.”
Snook said he would like to know if there is an entity that would take the statues at no cost to the city.
“It would have to be some place that was nowhere near here. If we don’t get such an offer, we should take them down and then solicit suggestions and designs for some public art that might use either or both of the [melted down] bronze or the [cut-up] granite plinths [from the statues],” he said.
Mayor Nikuyah Walker and Councilor Sena Magill did not respond to requests for comment.