In February, the Charlottesville City Council voted to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, and change the name of the surrounding area from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. “So why is the statue still standing?” you may wonder. As with many large undertakings, it’s complicated.
For starters, the city got slapped with a lawsuit. The Monument Fund, Inc., the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and other plaintiffs sued the city to keep the statue up. NBC 29 reported Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore held a hearing on May 2. In just 25 minutes, Judge Richard Moore issued a six-month injunction to bar the City Council from taking down the statue. He said he made his decision to prevent “irreparable harm” to Robert E. Lee’s likeness, but allowed the park to be renamed.
It appears those who oppose the continued display of Confederate monuments have got their work cut out for them. As Bloomberg Businessweek writes, “Actually Getting Rid of Robert E. Lee Can Be More Difficult Than You’d Think.” It turns out some states see these as historic monuments and have laws on the books to protect them.
Businessweek explains, “The Virginia statute, which specifically applies to tributes to combatants in what the law calls ‘the War Between the States,’ makes it illegal for local authorities ‘to disturb or interfere with any monuments or memorials so erected.’”
Experts say City lawyers are likely to argue the Robert E. Lee statue doesn’t come under that statute because it’s not a tribute to veterans. Businessweek scoffs at that approach as “pretty lame.” Instead, their best hope may be for Gov. Terry McAuliffe to push the state legislature to repeal the law. That way, cities and towns could decide what to do with their Confederate monuments.
Yet The Richmond Times-Dispatch notes there’s yet another obstacle to removing the Robert E. Lee statue: Cost. Last year, they estimated taking down the statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee could cost the city $330,000. Plus there’s the Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson statue they also voted to remove from nearby Justice Park, which could cost another $370,000. That’s $700,000 plus the costs of their legal battles… We’re looking at a hefty price tag for a small city like Charlottesville.
Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer now wants the Robert E. Lee statue removed.
Those who want to keep these statues intact say they’re part of our nation’s history. Those who want Robert E. Lee and other Confederate statues removed say they’re symbols of racism and belong in a museum. Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee also have similar laws banning the removal of Confederate statues and monuments.
Charlottesville’s Mayor, Mike Signer, was originally among the latter and voted against taking the Robert E. Lee statue down. CNN now reports he’s changed his tune. “I think everything changed last weekend,” he told CNN‘s Anderson Cooper on Friday. Horrified by the violence at the “Unite the Right” rally and the death of Heather Heyer, he explained, “All of a sudden these statues of Civil War generals installed in the Jim Crow era, they became touchstones of terror.”
Mike Signer also said he plans to propose a memorial to Heather Heyer. In addition, Charlottesville Area Community Foundation started a “Heal Charlottesville Fund” for programs to help residents heal from the terrors and division of that weekend’s violence.
Ironically, General Robert E. Lee was against the idea of Confederate monuments. According to CNN, he weighed in against them in 1869. When invited to an event in honor of a memorial to Confederate soldiers who fought at Gettysburg, he declined. “I think it wiser not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered,” he wrote in his response.
[Featured image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]