The work began around 1 p.m. in Emancipation Park, where a towering monument of Gen. Robert E. Lee on horseback stands. Workers gathered around the monument with a large black drape. Some stood in cherry-pickers and others used ropes and poles to cover the statue as onlookers took photos and video. Some of the crowd cheered as the cover was put in place.
“It’s great. It’s a good start,” said Jamie Dyer, who spoke a short time later from nearby Justice Park, where workers covered a statue of Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. “They do have to go, but it is a start, and I’m glad the city has finally recognized it has to happen on some level.”
The city council made the decision to cover the monuments at a meeting earlier this week. They also took the first administrative steps to remove the Jackson monument completely.
Not long after the Lee statue was shrouded, a man calmly attempted to remove it with a knife as an onlooker called him a “cold-hearted bastard.” He complied when police asked him to stop, but told the reporters and bystanders present that he thought it was illegal under state law to cover a war memorial.
A Virginia state law passed in 1998 does indeed forbid local governments from removing, damaging, or defacing war monuments. However, there’s legal ambiguity as to whether the law applies to statues like the Lee monument, which was erected before the law was passed.
It seems counterintuitive that the law would not protect monuments erected before 1998. More likely, the question over the Lee monument’s protection under the law isn’t so much about when it was put up as it is about what the monument represents.
A hearing concerning the monuments is scheduled for Sept. 1.
What do you think of the Charlottesville city council’s decision to shroud the monuments? Are they acting in defiance of state law? Share your thoughts below!