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Council appropriates $1 million for removal of statues

Charlottesville is one step closer to removing its Confederate statues.

The City Council voted unanimously Wednesday during a special meeting to appropriate $1 million for removal, storage and/or covering of the statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as one of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Shoshone interpreter Sacagawea.

The $1 million will come from the city’s Capital Improvement Program Contingency Fund.

“This is just putting funding in place so that we can either remove, store or cover any or all of the three statues … Any type of permanent dispossession, transfer of ownership or otherwise, would have to come back to you as a council for approval and a vote,” said City Manager Chip Boyles.

The council has not yet decided if the statues will be demolished or relocated.

Estimates made in 2017 said it would cost approximately $330,000 to $350,000 to remove each statue. During a meeting June 24, Boyles said that is still a close estimate to what it may cost, but there is more of a precedent for statue removal now than in 2017 and the city is speaking with other localities that have removed statues to get more accurate estimates.

The council voted unanimously in June to remove and recontextualize the statues of Jackson and Lee in downtown parks.

The city was required by Virginia statute to observe a 30-day waiting period before taking further action on removing the statues.

The city posted a request for statements of interest on its website following the vote, 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.

The request for statements of interest for the statues closes at 12 a.m. Thursday, according to the statements of interest document. At least three entities have expressed interest in the statues so far.

While the request for statements of interest is mandated by the state, the City Council is not required to allow the transfer of the statues to another entity. It can vote against this after reviewing the proposals.

The City Council voted in November 2019 to remove the statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea on West Main Street. Lewis was born in Albemarle County. In 1804, President Thomas Jefferson tasked Lewis and Clark with exploring land west of the Mississippi River that was part of the Louisiana Purchase.

In 2019, councilors discussed the statue with Native Americans, including descendants of Sacagawea, who traveled to Charlottesville from Idaho. The statue has been criticized for its portrayal of Sacagawea in a crouched position below Lewis and Clark.

Rose Ann Abrahamson, a descendant of Sacagawea and a Shoshone-Bannock woman, said during a work session in 2019 that she has seen nearly every depiction of her ancestor in the country.

“This statue in Charlottesville was the worst we have ever seen,” she said.

Abrahamson said the statue shows Sacagawea “cowering and recoiling.” She said it should be in a location where it can become an “object of discussion of America’s intolerant past.”

Some historians have interpreted Sacagawea’s kneeling position as her directing the explorers and tracking.

An article in Natural History magazine from 1919, the same year the statue was erected on West Main Street, says the artist represented Sacagawea “Bending forward, intent on the vast expanse of the ocean.”

The statue was made by Charles Keck and donated to the city in 1919 by Paul McIntire, who also donated the statues of Lee and Jackson and one at the University of Virginia of George Rogers Clark.

Initially, Sacagawea was not in the plans for the statue. Keck decided later to add her to the 18-foot statue after he had already begun the work.

During Wednesday’s meeting, Mayor Nikuyah Walker responded to public criticism of the removal of the statue of Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea.

“[We tried] to be really thoughtful about making that decision by bringing in Sacagawea’s descendants here … And so this is I think how we should make decisions. We tried to remove what we thought, and ask them what they thought, and that’s how this decision was made,” Walker said.

Boyles said there is an entity that previously expressed interest in acquiring the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue at little to no cost to the city.

“We have been continuing that conversation with the [interested] parties,” Boyles said.

The City Council will meet again July 19.


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