The City Council of Charlottesville, Va., voted on Tuesday to donate a statue of Robert E. Lee to an African American heritage center that plans to melt the monument, the focus of a deadly white nationalist rally in 2017, into bronze for a new piece of public artwork.
The 4-0 vote by the council followed years of debate over the fate of the statue. Four years ago, a plan to remove the statue drew scores of white nationalists to Charlottesville for a “Unite the Right” rally that led to violence, including the killing of a counterprotester by an Ohio man who plowed a car into a crowd.
The statue’s fate was left to a prolonged fight in court that concluded in April, when Virginia’s Supreme Court ruled that the city could take down two statues of Confederate generals, including Robert E. Lee’s. Over the summer, workers hoisted it off its granite base.
After taking it down, the city accepted proposals from bidders who wanted the statue. But the council on Tuesday decided to give it to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, which submitted a proposal under the name “Swords Into Plowshares.”
An Indiegogo campaign page for Swords Into Plowshares said that its leaders wanted to “transform a national symbol of white supremacy into a new work of art that will reflect racial justice and inclusion.”
The project’s leaders have not decided what the new artwork will look like. The campaign page said the decision would be “informed by a six-month community engagement process where residents of Charlottesville can participate in forums to help determine how the social value of inclusion can be represented through art and public space.”
Andrea Douglas, the center’s executive director, said in a video that Swords Into Plowshares “is a community-based project.”
Residents, she said, “will be able to articulate what we want in our public spaces, as opposed to objects that were given to our community that highlighted a particular ideology that we no longer share.”
The council’s decision followed an announcement from Virginia’s governor, Ralph Northam, on Sunday that the pedestal where a Robert E. Lee statue had stood in Richmond would be removed soon. Mr. Northam said that the removal process of that pedestal would be “substantially complete” by Dec. 31.
“This land is in the middle of Richmond, and Richmonders will determine the future of this space,” Mr. Northam said. “The Commonwealth will remove the pedestal and we anticipate a safe removal and a successful conclusion to this project.”
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