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Charlottesville to remove Confederate statues that helped spark deadly rally

Charlottesville to remove Confederate statues that helped spark deadly rally

A statue to a Confederate general that helped spark a violent white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017 is set to be removed on Saturday.

In a news release, the Virginia city said the equestrian statue of Gen Robert E Lee and a nearby statue of Gen Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson would be removed to storage. Designated public viewing areas for the removals were to be established.

Lee led Confederate forces during the American civil war, which the Confederacy fought between 1861 and 1865 in an attempt to maintain slavery. Jackson rose to fame in the first years of the conflict before being killed by his own men.

The Jackson statue was erected in 1921 and Lee in 1924, nearly 60 years after the war ended in the total defeat of the Confederacy but in an era of official racial segregation across southern states.

The statues will be toppled more than five years after calls for their removal began to gain momentum. In 2016, Zyahna Bryant, then a 16-year-old high-school student, was given an assignment that asked her to describe something she could change. She started a petition to remove the statue of Lee.

In response, the city council set up a commission on race, memorials and public Spaces. In February 2017 the council voted for removal, angering white supremacist groups.

The Lee statue became a rallying point for such extremists, culminating in a “Unite the Right” rally in August that year. Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists congregated in Charlottesville to defend the Lee statue and a counter-protester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer, was killed. A white supremacist was convicted of her murder.

Because of litigation and changes to a state law, the city was unable to act before holding public hearings and offering the statue to any museum, historical society or battlefield. This week, the city said it had received 10 such expressions of interest, “six out-of-state and four in-state that are all under review”.

Take ’Em Down CVille, a group that campaigns for racial justice, applauded news of the planned removal.

“The messages from the public were moving and powerful,” it said. “No one believes that removing the statues will end white supremacy but this is an important step – and one long past due.”

Preparations around the parks included the installation of protective fencing, the city said, adding that both statues will be stored in a secure location on city property until the council reaches a final decision on their relocation.

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