Thursday, January 20

“What a Relief”: Charlottesville Spectators Applaud Removal of Confederate Statue | Virginia

When the statue of Robert E Lee, the Confederate general, was lifted from its pedestal and tied to a waiting truck in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, the removal was met largely with cheers and expressions of relief from witnesses. .

Several hundred people had gathered to watch the early removal of Lee’s statue from the city’s Market Street Park, with shouts of “get up and get out of here” and “goodbye” marking the moment.

Passersby then moved to nearby Court Square Park to watch city workers remove the statue of Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

“I literally felt lighter when the statues fell, it was such a relief,” said Jalane Schmidt, a Charlottesville resident and scholar who happened to be a witness.

It was a satisfying morning for activists who clashed with far-right protesters nearly four years ago who had marched to oppose plans to remove Lee’s statue.

The far-right rally and weekend rally in August 2017 erupted into violent clashes with counter-protesters, ultimately leading to counter-protester Heather Heyer being killed when a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd.

Schmidt said she was a counter-protester that weekend, when many extremists were seen wearing Ku Klux Klan garb, military-style garb, or a variety of other outfits often associated with the far-right, some with weapons and paraphernalia bearing neo-Nazi symbols. .

“Four years ago, the police fired tear gas at me during the Klan rally, a group of members of my community were injured, some permanently. We have literally shed blood, sweat and tears over this. “

Schmidt, who is an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, said the statues, placed in the wake of the civil war to honor leaders of the southern rebellion that aimed to uphold black slavery, are ” propaganda art, an attempt by white civic leaders to enshrine a vision of civil war that denied black humanity. They are a visual representation of white supremacy. “

Unlike the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, where far-right supporters also protested the reality of a multi-ethnic America, white supremacist protesters did not show up to take a position on Saturday and there was no conflict.

“It was pretty cold,” Schmidt said. “It was the grassroots citizens who came forward. I think I saw more undercover cops than neo-confederates. “

“Taking down this statue is a small step toward helping Charlottesville, Virginia, and the United States deal with the sin of being willing to destroy black people for financial gain,” Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker told who was joined by Zyahna Bryant. , a black student who, when he was 16 years old in 2016, started a petition demanding that Lee’s statue be torn down.

Zyahna Bryant speaks at a press conference before the Confederate statues were retired in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Zyahna Bryant speaks at a press conference before the Confederate statues were retired in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photograph: John C Clark / AP

“This is way overdue,” said Bryant, a student at the University of Virginia. “There is no platform for white supremacy. There is no platform for racism. There is no platform for hate. “

Some had traveled to see the moves. Daryle Lamont Jenkins, an anti-racism activist, took a trip from Washington DC when he realized that the statues were finally falling after a long legal battle.

“I had to be there, I had to make sure I saw this,” said Jenkins, who was also present at the 2017 counter-protests.

“The Lee statue was the one I most wanted to see disappear, because someone was killed for this statue. People said that we shouldn’t give too much importance to these statues, but they literally killed someone for it. “

Jenkins said the far-right Unite the Right movement had “failed miserably” and was encouraged to see so many white people in the crowd cheering for the removal of the statues.

“It’s definitely progress when these statues fall, but Charlottesville should have been the shot over the bow, on January 6. [the day of the US Capitol insurrection by pro-Trump extremists] it should never have happened, ”he said. “If we don’t learn the lessons, we will see it again and it will hurt more people.”

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