Movement afoot to remove Lee statue in Charlottesville

3/24/2016, 11:07 p.m.
Charlottesville residents who are uncomfortable with a local park could affect a monumental change if renewed protest over a nearly ...

By Chris Suarez

The Daily Progress


Charlottesville residents who are uncomfortable with a local park could affect a monumental change if renewed protest over a nearly 100-year-old statue gains enough support.

On Tuesday, local community leaders called on the city’s elected officials to rename Lee Park and remove the statue of the park’s namesake, Gen. Robert E. Lee of the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. 

The news conference was spurred by a number of recent local and state developments regarding Confederate monuments and the legacy of Gen. Lee and Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

Several months after the Charlottesville City Council unanimously decided City Hall would no longer observe Lee-Jackson Day, a state holiday that honors the Confederate generals, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was spray-painted on the Lee memorial last summer.

The council decision and the vandalism incident were the most recent flashpoints in an ongoing debate over whether reverence toward Confederate heroes and imagery is appropriate in contemporary American society.

In a news release, council member Wes Bellamy said a recent veto of a General Assembly bill attempting to limit localities’ authority to remove war-related monuments, including Confederate markers, has shined a light on the issue once again.

Although the bill was vetoed on March 11, state legislators will have an opportunity to override the veto April 20. A two-thirds majority vote in both the House of Delegates and the Senate would be needed to defeat Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s veto.

The bill passed the House on an 82-16 vote, but the Senate was almost evenly split with a 21-17 vote.

“This action has been discussed on several occasions, and with the recent development in Richmond, the city of Charlottesville has an opportunity to act,” Mr. Bellamy said.

“The goal of this press conference is to show a united front to the constituents of Charlottesville, while also asking for city leaders to make a concerted effort to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for all throughout the city.”

(The Charlottesville City Council agreed Monday evening to consider convening a blue ribbon commission that will explore how the statues honoring Gen. Lee and Gen. Jackson, can be removed.)

Opposition to the proposal mounted quickly. On Monday morning, The Virginia Flaggers, a Richmond-based group that seeks to preserve memorials to Confederate history, took to social media to condemn the proposal to remove the statue.

A letter to the City Council attributed to Virginia Flagger H.V. Traywick Jr. was shared on the group’s Facebook page.

“The call for the removal of the Lee Monument and the renaming of the park smacks of knee-jerk self-righteousness from a myopic Marxist mob,” Mr. Traywick wrote.

“Don’t belittle yourselves. Leave the statue of Lee where it stands,” he stated.

A petition by Charlottesville High School student Zyahna Bryant also was cited in Mr. Bellamy’s release.

“Thoughts of physical harm, cruelty and disenfranchisement flood my mind. As a teenager in Charlottesville that identifies as black, I am offended every time I pass it,” Ms. Bryant wrote in a note that is attached to her petition.