History museum

Black History Museum to Go on Trial for Plans for Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee Monument

A circuit court judge set up a trial on Monday in February as part of a lawsuit to stop a Charlottesville museum from melting down a monument to Robert E. Lee that was removed from city property in 2021.

The bronze statue stood in a Charlottesville park near the downtown mall, before the city council voted to donate the monument to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The organization, which opened in 2013, plans to turn the Confederate monument into a work of public art.

Two organizations that unsuccessfully sought ownership of last year, the 26-foot-tall statue sued the city and Jefferson School to overturn the council’s decision.

Andrea Douglas, executive director of the Jefferson School, met with supporters outside the courthouse ahead of Monday’s hearing.

“We shouldn’t even be here today,” Douglas said. “We should have been able to do what we wanted to do because that’s what we decided for our city.”

Hashim Davis, teacher at Albemarle High School read a quote from writer and social commentator James Baldwin.

On Monday, Andrea Douglas, executive director of the Jefferson School, speaks to a group of about 50 supporters of the Swords into Plowshares initiative outside Charlottesville Circuit Court. (Photo: Whittney Evans/VPM News)

“Whatever is faced cannot be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is confronted,” he read to a group of about 50 outside Charlottesville Circuit Court, a few blocks from where he stood. found Lee’s statue. He told his supporters that Swords into Plowshares – the Jefferson School’s proposal for the Lee monument – ​​is a show of courage.

“This is an act of relentless determination, and it goes beyond the desecration of statues, but rather it is about the consecration of our common history,” he said. “It’s about actively and courageously facing our future.”

The suing groups want to preserve the statue and claim the process of acquiring the Lee monument violated state antitrust laws.

Last fall, the city approached interested parties to take ownership of the monument. Dozens of organizations expressed interest, but the city settled on the Jefferson School. The Trevilian Station Battlefield Foundation and the Ratcliffe Foundation, which operates the Ellenbrook Museum in Rosedale, said the city does not have the authority to donate a Confederate monument they know will be destroyed.

The organizations asked the court to require the Jefferson School to publicly disclose the statue’s current location, as well as whether it has been taken down or damaged in any way. The court agreed to give the plaintiffs limited access, but refused to release the whereabouts of the statue.

A lawyer for the Trevilian Station and Ratcliffe foundations declined to answer questions after the hearing. Email requests for comment on Monday were not returned by the end of the day.

University of Virginia graduate Paul G. McIntire funded the design and construction of the equestrian statue. Unveiled in 1924, the 12ft by 8ft monument is seen as the impetus for the 2017 Unite the Right rally, which brought hundreds of white nationalists and neo-Nazis to Charlottesville and resulted in the death of activist Heather Heyer .