The General Robert E. Lee statue that had been on display in Charlottesville for almost 100 years has been melted down just over two years after being removed following political pressure.
The Civil War general’s statue had been commissioned by a graduate of the University of Virginia in 1917 who purchased the land on which it was displayed. The statue, which went on public display in 1924, was voted by the Charlottesville City Council to be removed in 2017.
The Lee statue was donated to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville. For the last two years, the museum has fought in court for the right to melt down the statue. Two Civil War history nonprofits, the Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation and the Ratcliffe Foundation, submitted competing bids to take control of the statue that were ultimately rejected. The organizations sued to be given the statue and their efforts were ultimately blocked by a Virginia judge in July of 2023, per ArtNet News.
The Center plans to repurpose the brass material to be used for “public art” that demonstrates the city’s “values of inclusivity and racial justice.”
“At a news conference Thursday, heritage center officials said they now plan to solicit proposals on how to repurpose the statue,” report AP News. “The center hopes to pick an artist next year and is conducting a $4 million fundraising campaign.”
Activists gathered at the foundry where the statue was cut into pieces before being melted. The pieces were loaded into the foundry one by one over the course of several hours.
“It felt like an execution,” Jalane Schmidt, the co-founder of Charlottesville Black Lives Matter and a professor at the University of Virginia, told The Guardian.
“To be present was … it’s hard to put into words,” said Reverend Isaac Collins, who attended the melting. “We were a part of this hundred-year history of resistance to the statue, but also this 400-year legacy of race in the United States. So, it was very gratifying. It was very sobering. It was humbling.”
“When we saw it removed from the ingots, there were these different variations in the color, and the sculptors told me that it was because of impurities in the bronze,” said Collins. “It seemed very fitting. The impure nature of what these statues have always stood for, sort of living on in the material that they were created out of.”
A second statue of General Lee was removed from its plinth in Richmond in September of 2021.
The monument was about 130 years old, 21 feet tall, and weighed approximately 12 tons. It features Lee on top of his horse and was installed in the 1890s on a granite pedestal that was left in place. The statue was created by French sculptor Marius-Jean-Antonin Mercie.
Former Virginia Governor Ralph Northman had denounced the Civil War statue during the summer of 2020, amid national racial tension. During that summer, protestors toppled a number of statues along the avenue, including those of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, General Williams Carter Wickham, and Christopher Columbus.
Speaking to a crowd on the day the statue was removed by a crane, Northam said the statue represented “more than 400 years of history that we should not be proud of.”