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Council to Discuss Civil War Era Monuments, Protests Planned

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Lee Park Lee Park
Lee Park Lee Park
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) -

Opponents of Charlottesville's effort to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee are planning a rally for Monday afternoon.

The Virginia Flaggers group is calling on supporters from across the commonwealth to come to Lee Park to protest the city's Blue Ribbon Commission on race, monuments, and public spaces.  The Flaggers group plans to protest in the park from 4 to 6 p.m. Monday before heading over to City Council's meeting.

There are five Confederate memorials in the city of Charlottesville. Two are at the University of Virginia. One stands along West Main Street, another is in the middle of Court Square, and the most controversial statue stands at the center of Lee Park.

Charlottesville City Council is trying to decide where the city, and its history, goes from here.

Monday night, City Councilors are expected to discuss the future of those Confederate memorials. Some of the questions on the table: should the city add, subtract, or change the statues?

A call to remove the Robert E. Lee statue and rename Lee Park ignited this discussion about what to do with Charlottesville's Confederate symbols and memorials.

"You cannot find a way to please those who find these symbols terribly repellant and want them gone and those who argue that they have nothing to do with Jim Crow and they're really all about Confederate valor," Professor Gary Gallagher of the UVA history department said.

Gallagher is a Civil War historian. He says there's no way to satisfy both sides of this debate, but that dialogue is the best way to go.

"The decision to establish a Blue Ribbon Commission is a wise one and will help the Council gather information and testimony from a range of people who have ideas about this and will help them find a way to deal with the reality that there is a major Confederate landscape in Charlottesville that is not offset by anything that deals with emancipation or deals with Union," Gallagher said.

Monday night, Charlottesville City Council is set to discuss the creation of a Blue Ribbon Commission. 

"Up to this point, people tiptoe around this subject. They don't know what to say, they don't know how to say it. We have to let people feel comfortable with discussion this in a manner that we can then chart a course forward," City Councilor Bob Fenwick said.

The commission would be made up of five to seven members who would be tasked with providing options for adding on to or removing existing Confederate statues.

"I think one thing that could be done is rename that park, leave the lee statue, but also put another monument up and put interpretive text up that would sort of give the history of why the Lee statue went up, when it went up, what it meant, what it didn't mean and balance with something that would deal with African-American history in Charlottesville," Gallagher said.

City councilors say it's important to understand the individual history of each of the monuments.

"One of the things we've noticed or heard is that a lot of people really believe that Lee and Jackson are part of our local history. But, they're not. They were never in Charlottesville. There was never a Civil War battle in Charlottesville," City Councilor Kristen Szakos said.

Ultimately, many argue that the community's voice is what's most important.

"This is a local issue, it's not something the state of Virginia should decide, it isn't something the United States government should decide, it's a local issue," Gallagher said.

This will likely not come to a vote until the next council meeting. If approved by councilors, the commission would have 60 days to come up with a proposal.