The removal of the George Rogers Clark statue at the University of Virginia on Sunday was for some a symbolic first step toward repairing the harm the monument represented over the course of its 100-year history.
Workers strapped and adjusted the statue for about two hours before it was removed from its base, loaded onto a flatbed truck and taken to an undisclosed location.
Erected in 1921, the statue depicts Clark on a horse, attacking a Native American family while backed by three frontiersmen wielding rifle, pistol and powder. It was paid for by Paul Goodloe McIntire, who also commissioned the three statues that were removed by the city of Charlottesville on Saturday — those of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and one of Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and Sacagawea.
Zac Russell, a UVa undergraduate and citizen of the Cherokee Nation, said the George Rogers Clark statue almost deterred him from attending the university. To Russell, the statue symbolized a celebration of genocide of Native people.
“To see it removed, I’m just filled with joy,” he said. “That statue over the last 100 years has caused a lot of pain, so I’m glad to see that the statue can no longer cause pain.”
Crews started setting up the crane around 7:45 a.m. Sunday as dozens of people gathered along West Main Street to watch, including activists, UVa students, local Native Americans who had worked to get the statue removed and joggers who happened on the scene.
“This is finally the beginning of telling the truth about our history and not the end of things,” said Teresa Pollack, a member of the Monacan Indian Nation.
Pollack said the statue was one of Karenne Wood’s “biggest pet peeves.” Wood, who died in 2019, was a lifelong advocate for Native Americans and a member of the Monacans.
“She passed away before she could see this, but she would be very happy on this day,” Pollack said.
Allison Bigelow, the Tom Scully Discovery Chair associate professor of Spanish, Italian and Portuguese at UVa, said she saw the removal as one step toward UVa making things right.
“Making things right would include hiring native faculty, increasing undergraduate admissions for Native American students, including tuition remission as part of a Land Back campaign,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of good things that UVa could be doing, and I’m hopeful that this will be a step in that direction.”
Bigelow, Pollack and Russell were members of the George Rogers Clark Committee in President Jim Ryan’s office, along with other faculty, community members, administrators and Native American Student Union representatives.
The committee has invited all tribal nations whose ancestors potentially were affected by contact with Clark to participate in the next stage of deciding what to do with the statue and the space, following guidelines from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Bigelow said.
The university’s Racial Equity Task Force report last summer recommended the statue be removed, and UVa’s Board of Visitors gave its approval in September.
Clark was born in Albemarle County in 1752, an older brother of William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition. He was named a brigadier general in 1781 by then-Virginia Gov. Thomas Jefferson and was the highest ranking American military officer on the northwestern frontier during the Revolutionary War.
A UVa spokesman previously said that site work will continue for several days, and intermittent lane closures were announced for the area around the statue, to last through Friday. An update on the lane closures was not available Sunday evening.
Team Henry Enterprises, a Newport News-based contracting firm, was on site Sunday morning after being awarded the removal contract last week following an open bidding process. The company also oversaw the removals for the city the prior day and several Confederate statues in Richmond last summer. The company previously served as the general contractor on the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at UVa.
After the Clark statue was secured to the bed of the truck, Team Henry Enterprises CEO Devon Henry allowed members of the Monacan tribe a closer look at the statue before it left the area.
The removal was expected to cost about $400,000, officials said at a June Board of Visitors meeting, but contract details were not available at press time.
Lisa Woolfork, an associate professor at UVa and a Black Lives Matter organizer, said the statue was a “continual, perpetual slap in the face — to honor and somehow enshrine the despoilment of a people.”
“This is the very first step, the bare minimum, toward accountability, and my hope is that this can be the first step in the larger process of the University of Virginia repairing the harm that this represents, increasing Native American students, faculty and Native American studies as a discipline,” she said.
Marcia Mitchell walked from her house to witness the statue removal. She said she learned to walk with her grandparents at the statue.
“My grandparents would never have thought this would happen, never,” she said. “It’s a good day.”