The civil trial of Sines v. Kessler is underway and soon we will see if those who organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville will be held accountable for the violence and murder that took place. Meanwhile, some folks have some rather creative ideas for the future of the now removed statues that started it all.
Take ‘Em Down Cville
Take ‘Em Down Cville announces its enthusiastic support of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center’s (JSAAHC) Swords into Plowshares proposal for a community-driven transformation of Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue. This bold and forward-looking endeavor, inspired by the Isaiah 2:4 prophetic vision, would: (i) fund the disassembly and melting of the statue, (ii) oversee a community engagement process to define the aspirations and values for new public art created from the reclaimed material, and (iii) commission an artist-in-residence to guide the process of repurposing its bronze for use in the new artwork(s).
This proposal has garnered wide support from numerous community arts, educational, faith, and philanthropic organizations, including: Virginia Humanities, the University of Virginia Democracy Initiative’s Memory Project, the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, the Charlottesville Black Arts Collective, Visible Records, and Congregate Charlottesville, among others. Furthermore, the JSAAHC has already secured over $500,000 in donation pledges to cover the first phase of the project. Swords into Plowshares is the only submission from a local organization, and the only one from an African American organization.
There are many compelling reasons why we believe Charlottesville’s City Council should select the Swords into Plowshares proposal. Among them:
1. African-American residents of Charlottesville and Albemarle County had no votes, no seats at the table in the Jim Crow South when the Lee statue was erected. In fact, Black residents were excluded from setting foot in Market Street Park (formerly “Lee Park”) for decades. It is fitting justice that the JSAAHC, a respected and trusted local nonprofit dedicated to African-American history and culture, lead this project dedicated to community healing and transformation. Swords into Plowshares will encompass a broad community engagement process, in which descendants of enslaved people have a prominent voice, similar to that undertaken during the design phase of the Memorial to Enslaved Laborers monument at the University of Virginia.
2. The statue was an intimidating symbol of white supremacy that dominated the public square for almost 100 years. Furthermore, it was a direct cause of the traumatic and deadly Unite the Right rally of August 12, 2017. Removing the Lee statue from Market Street Park in July 2021 was an important step in repudiating the long-held — and false — Lost Cause historical narrative. The removal also served to “recast” our history to accurately and inclusively acknowledge the evils suffered under slavery and post-slavery oppression. Nothing would be a more profoundly powerful symbol of that repudiation than literally recasting the statue’s bronze into a transformative new work of community healing and inclusion. Allowing this statue to be moved elsewhere for exhibition (and possible veneration) is not repudiation and is not an acceptable choice. A new UVA study just published by the National Academy of Sciences found a “significant correlation between lynchings and monuments”. Charlottesville Tomorrow
3. We did not choose it, but the 2017 violence made Charlottesville a national symbol of the struggle to come to terms with America’s tragic racial history. What we do will garner international attention and be judged by history. Acceptance of the Swords into Plowshares proposal will make a bold and innovative statement in the ongoing national conversation around Confederate monuments. On the other hand, a bureaucratic transaction permitting this toxic symbol to be enshrined in a new location would be enormously disrespectful to all who have suffered and died from the effects of white supremacy over the past 400 years. Charlottesville needs to engage in a transformative and healing process with these statues.
4. Swords into Plowshares offers additional upsides for Charlottesville. It could bring a new prominence to the City as a locus of civic engagement and betterment. And the resulting public art could have significant economic benefits as a tourist attraction. Other submissions merely relocate the statue, offering no such advantages.
5. Charlottesville is fortunate to have an organization with African American leadership ready and willing to guide our community in this final phase of our painful relationship with this harmful statue. Dr. Andrea Douglas, the JSAAHC’s Executive Director, is an art historian with 20 years of experience as a museum curator, including at the University of Virginia’s Fralin Museum. She served on the UVA President’s Commission on Slavery and currently co-chairs the President’s Commission on the University in the Age of Segregation. She sat on the jury that selected the design and artist for the UVA Memorial to Enslaved Laborers, and was a member of Charlottesviile’s 2016 Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces. In addition, the JSAAHC’S Board is itself composed of prominent leaders in the local African American community.
There is no better proposal than Swords into Plowshares, and no better organization than the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center to lead this transformational process. We strongly urge the Charlottesville City Council to make a bold choice in selecting this proposal.
Take ‘Em Down Cville is a coalition of racial justice activists — educators, faith leaders, artists, attorneys, historians, and healthcare providers from across the community — who have fought for the removal of Charlottesville’s Confederate monuments since 2016, and who, with statewide partners, successfully lobbied the 2020 Virginia General Assembly to change state law to allow for local control over the removal of Confederate monuments.