A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was removed from Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, nearly four years after a violent white supremacist protest in the city resulted in the death of a peaceful counter-protester.
The city’s officials took down the statue early in the morning and several hours later also removed Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson's statue.
“Taking down this statue is one small step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia, and America, grapple with the sin of being willing to destroy Black people for economic gain,” Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker said as the crane neared the monument.
In 2016, Zyahna Bryant, a black woman, created a petition to rename and remove Lee's statue. The city council voted in favor of the removal in 2017, sparking a violent rally among white supremacists in August that shook the country.
White supremacist and neo-Nazi organizers of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville claimed they went to the city to defend the statue of Lee.
Counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed at the rally after a man drove his car into a crowd of people. The man, James Alex Fields Jr., was found guilty of murder in 2019.
In spite of the city council vote in 2017, a circuit court issued a ruling two years later banning the removal of the statues arguing they were protected by state law. In April 2021, however, the Virginia Supreme Court overturned that decision.
Bryant said the response to the statues being removed has been mixed, explaining some, who at first did not support the removal, came around after the violent protest in 2017.
"What I have found is that there is so much power in public history work because it gives people the background knowledge needed to form an informed opinion," she said. "What I have found is that the more people know, the more open they become to change."
The efforts by civil rights groups and others to destroy the Confederate monuments, such as the controversial “Silent Sam” statue on the campus of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, gained momentum six years ago after a 21-year-old white supremacist, Dylann Roof, opened fire at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, leaving nine African-American worshipers dead in June 2015.
According to the US media reports, nearly 168 Confederate symbols have been removed across the United States only in 2020 in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
The Confederate battle flag was first raised atop the South Carolina State House in 1962, as part of the US Civil War centennial commemoration.