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‘Such a relief’: Charlottesville onlookers cheer the removal of Confederate statue

‘Such a relief’: Charlottesville onlookers cheer the removal of Confederate statue

As the statue of Robert E Lee, the Confederate general, was hoisted off its pedestal and strapped to a waiting truck in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, the removal was largely greeted with cheers and expressions of relief by those witnessing it.

Several hundred people had gathered to see the early morning removal of Lee’s statue from the city’s Market Street park, with shouts of “get up and get outta here” and “bye bye” marking the moment.

Bystanders then shuttled over to nearby Court Square park to see city workers remove the statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

“I literally felt lighter when the statues came down, it was such a relief,” said Jalane Schmidt, a Charlottesville resident and academic who turned out to witness.

Stonewall Jackson gets hauled out of Charlottesville, ass first, with U.S. flags waving behind him. The crowd yells “THANK YOU!!” to the workers on the contracting team as they drive their trucks away. #CvilleStatuesDown pic.twitter.com/7D40x6Opif— Jalane Smash the Fash Schmidt 📚👩🏾‍🏫🗣📢 (@Jalane_Schmidt) July 10, 2021

It was a satisfying morning for activists who confronted far-right protesters almost four years ago who had marched to oppose plans to remove Lee’s statue.

The far-right rally and demonstration over a weekend in August 2017 erupted in violent clashes with counter-protesters, leading ultimately to counter-protester Heather Heyer being murdered when a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd.

Schmidt said she was a counter-protester that weekend, when many extremists were seen wearing Ku Klux Klan regalia, military-style garb or a variety of other outfits often associated with the far right, some carrying weapons and paraphernalia with neo-Nazi symbols.

“Four years ago, I was teargassed by cops during the Klan rally, a bunch of my community members were injured, some permanently. We have literally shed blood, sweat and tears over this.”

Schmidt, who is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, said the statues, put up in the wake of the civil war to honor the leaders of the southern rebellion that aimed to maintain the enslavement of black people, are “propaganda art, an attempt by white civic leaders to enshrine a view of the civil war that denied the humanity of black people. They are a visual representation of white supremacy.”

As the crane moves into position to remove Charlottesville’s Lee statue, 3 Black women in City leadership (police chief, Mayor @NikuyahWalkerCC, student activist @ZyahnaB) speak to the press about symbolic 1st steps to eradicating white supremacy. #Cvillestatuesdown pic.twitter.com/H7G53EElCa— Jalane Smash the Fash Schmidt 📚👩🏾‍🏫🗣📢 (@Jalane_Schmidt) July 10, 2021

Unlike the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, where far-right followers also protested over the reality of a multi-ethnic United States, white supremacist demonstrators did not turn up to make a stand on Saturday and there was no conflict.

“It was pretty chill,” said Schmidt. “It was just rank and file townspeople who showed up. I think I saw more undercover cops than neo-Confederates.”

“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,” said Charlottesville’s mayor, Nikuyah Walker, who was joined by Zyahna Bryant, a black student who, as a 16-year-old in 2016, started a petition demanding that Lee’s statue be toppled.

‘Such a relief’: Charlottesville onlookers cheer the removal of Confederate statue

“This is well overdue,” said Bryant, a student at the University of Virginia. “No platform for white supremacy. No platform for racism. No platform for hate.”

Some had traveled to see the removals. Daryle Lamont Jenkins, an anti-racism activist, took a trip down from Washington DC when he became aware the statues were finally coming down after a long legal battle.

“I had to be there, I had to make sure I saw this,” said Jenkins, who was also present at the 2017 counter protests.

“The Lee statue was the one I wanted to see go most of all of them, because they killed someone for this statue. People were saying we shouldn’t make a big deal about these statues, but they literally killed someone over it.”

Jenkins said the far-right Unite the Right movement had “failed miserably” and that he was heartened to see so many white people in the crowd cheering the removal of the statues.

“It’s definitely progress when these statues come down but Charlottesville should’ve been the shot across the bow, January 6 [the day of the US Capitol insurrection by pro-Trump extremists] should never have happened,” he said. “If we don’t learn the lessons we will see it again and it will hurt more people.”

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