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Charlottesville’s Confederate statues are coming down. How did we get here?

Published: Jul. 9, 2021 at 10:04 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - On Saturday, Charlottesville’s two Confederate statues are coming down.

It’s been a years-long journey for the city and activists that call Charlottesville home. The journey to removal has spanned multiple city councils, two removal votes, countless court dates, and violence from white supremacists.

The story starts in the early 20th century. The “Stonewall” Jackson statue was unveiled in 1921; the Robert E. Lee statue in 1924. That was more than 50 years after the end of the Civil War, making the statues a symbol of the Confederate’s “Lost Cause.”

In more recent history -- 2016 to be exact -- discussions to take the statues down picked up.

“We will not be bullied. We will not be pushed away,” said Wes Bellamy, a then-city councilor, in February 2017.

Bellamy called for the Lee statue to be taken down with the support of a popular petition started by then-teenager Zyahna Bryant. With support from fellow councilor Kristin Szakos already established (she had been pushing for removal for a few years at that point), the city council voted 3-2 to remove the Lee Statue in February 2017. The third vote was cast by Bob Fenwick.

That’s when the legal battles began. The city was sued by several people hoping to keep the statue up.

Then, on July 8, 2017, white supremacist Ku Klux Klan members marched through Charlottesville. One month later: the infamous Unite the Right Rally, where violent white supremacists and Neo-Nazis came to Charlottesville, leading to the murder of Heather Heyer.

Three years later, state government had its say on the future of Confederate statues, when the legislature passed a law that allows local governments to decide what to do with the statues.

Then, in April 2021, the Virginia Supreme Court ended any legal debate.

“This is a fight and a battle that you don’t win in a day, you don’t win in a week, you don’t win in a year,” Bellamy told NBC29 after the ruling.

The last hurdle was seemingly a formality. On June 8, Charlottesville’s City Council voted unanimously to remove the statues -- again. This time, it’s going to happen.

It’s a full-circle moment for those involved in the statues looming removal since the beginning.

“There’s no opportunity left to straddle the fence,” Bryant said during virtual public comment ahead of council’s 2021 vote. “Which side of history do you want to be on? Which kind of ancestor do you all wish to be?”

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