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Politics

Charlottesville Readies for Removal of Confederate Statues

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.— Crews in Charlottesville are preparing to remove a Confederate statue that became a rallying point for white supremacists and helped inspire their violent 2017 rally that left a woman dead and dozens injured. 

Saturday's removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee and another of Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson will come nearly four years after violence erupted at the infamous "Unite the Right" rally. Heather Heyer, a peaceful counterprotester, died in the violence, which sparked a national debate over racial equity, further inflamed by former President Donald Trump's insistence that there was "blame on both sides."

The city announced its plans to hoist away the statues Friday. A long, winding legal fight coupled with changes in a state law that protected war memorials had held up the removal for years.

The park where the Lee statue stands was quiet early Saturday, with protective fencing in place.

Only the statues, not their stone pedestals, will be removed Saturday. They will be taken down and stored in a secure location until the City Council makes a final decision about what should be done with them. Under state law, the city was required to solicit parties interested in taking the statues during an offer period that ended Thursday. It received 10 responses to its solicitation.

A coalition of activists commended the city for moving quickly to take the statues down after the offer period ended. As long as the statues "remain standing in our downtown public spaces, they signal that our community tolerated white supremacy and the Lost Cause these generals fought for," the coalition called Take 'Em Down Cville said.

The most recent removal push focused on the Lee monument began in 2016, thanks in part to a petition started by a Black high school student, Zyahna Bryant. A lawsuit was quickly filed, putting the city's plans on hold, and white supremacists seized on the issue. 

"This is a crucial first step in the right direction to tell a more historically accurate and complete story of this place and the people who call this place home. The work did not start here and it will not end here," Bryant, now a student at the University of Virginia, said in a statement.

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