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A Black museum in Virginia will melt down a Robert E. Lee statue to make new art

The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center will melt the statue down into bronze ingots. These will be used to create new art for the community.

A Black museum in Virginia will melt down a Robert E. Lee statue to make new art
Image Source: City Of Charlottesville, Virginia Removes Its Confederate Era Statues. CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA - JULY 10. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The City Council of Charlottesville, Virginia, recently voted four to zero to hand over a statue of Robert E. Lee to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The center is a cultural arts and history museum whose mission is to honor and preserve the rich heritage and legacy of the African-American community of Charlottesville-Albemarle. The museum, which is housed in what was once Charlottesville's only high school for Black students, plans to melt the statue down and use it to create new art. According to executives from the center, they will work with the community to commission the new artwork, CNN reports.


"I think the goal for us when we started this process was to take something that has been traumatic in our community, a symbol of racism, and turn it into something that can cause our community to heal," shared Andrea Douglas, the center's Executive Director. "We are hoping that this process will be the complete antithesis to the process that put the [Lee] statue in our community to begin with." In the next year, the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center will take the statue to a foundry where it will be melted down into bronze ingots that will be used to create new public art.


As per Douglas, the center will work with the community to identify exactly what people want in their public spaces before moving on to commission the new artwork. She asserted, "We'll do that immediately. It's the first thing we're going to do." The center hopes to complete the project by 2024, which is when the 100th anniversary of the unveiling of the Lee statue is scheduled to fall. The process is part of a project called "Swords into Plowshares" and will cost approximately $1.1 million. The center has already raised about half of the funds required for the project.


The city of Charlottesville first voted to take down the Lee statue in 2017. At the time, white nationalists marched to protest the removal of the Lee statue and a counterprotester was killed in the subsequent violence. Just last month, a jury awarded $26 million in damages after finding the white nationalists who organized and participated in the rally liable on a state conspiracy claim and other claims. The statue, however, was not removed until earlier this year in July. In addition to the statue of Confederate leader Robert E. Lee, the statues of Confederate Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson and explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark and Sacagawea were also removed. The city is yet to decide on what to do with the statues of Jackson, or Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea.


As explained by Douglas, these statues are symbols of oppression that can be traumatic to people of color, particularly Black folks. Across the country, local governments are finally doing away with these icons of racism. Information from the Southern Poverty Law Center reveals that more than 160 Confederate monuments were removed in the United States in 2020.


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