Charlottesville Religious Groups Rally for Peace at Lee Park
Religious groups came together Wednesday to counter a possible Confederate heritage rally in downtown Charlottesville.
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Religious groups in Charlottesville are calling on their congregations to stand up against white supremacy in the battle to bring down a Confederate statue.
Churches organized Wednesday’s protest at Lee Park to counter a planned rally from supporters of Confederate heritage.
“The call was sent out to people of faith to show up in our bodies in a ministry of presence,” said Brittany Caine-Conley with Sojourners United Church of Christ.
A city spokesperson says Charlottesville City Council received an email last week alerting it to plans for a rally for the 93-year-old statue of General Robert E. Lee.
“It's not about hate. It's not about race. It's about heritage. It's about history,” said Lanahan Russell, who supports the statue.
However, the Confederate supporters were a no-show.
Councilors had voted 3-2 on February 6 to remove the statue, with Mayor Mike Signer and councilor Kathy Galvin voting against the measure. A similar vote on April 17 approved plans to sell the Lee statue to an educational institution, museum, or nonprofit group.
A lawsuit filed on March 20 argues that City Council acted beyond its authority and violated a state law which prohibits removing monuments or memorials to war veterans. A judge issued a six-month injunction on May 2, preventing the removal for the time being.
More than 100 people, including several clergy members, gathered in front of the Lee statue at 9 a.m. Wednesday, May 31, an hour ahead of a support rally that never happened.
“I don't think you can have the peace when symbols that represent oppression for others remain,” said Reverend Dr. Susan Minasian with Sojourners United Church of Christ.
The protesters sang hymns and chanted "we are going to drown out hate," and "we shall not be moved."
Organizers say Charlottesville's religious community is awakening to join the fight against hate and racism. They believe this rally sends a clear message to any white supremacists who planned to stir up trouble in Lee Park.
“That was one of the reasons we organized was to hold this space so maybe they wouldn't try to take this space. But, also, I don't think they were expecting a bunch of clergy in clerical collars to be here today,” Caine-Conley said.
More than a dozen police officers surrounded the park as a precaution. Charlottesville Police Chief Al Thomas told people in the crowd that the goal was for everyone to be respectful.
Previous protests at Lee Park had resulted in a handful of arrests between people with opposing opinions.
There were a few back-and-forth debates between people who have different views on the statue and the protests, but the rally remained peaceful.
“Those of us who feel that justice is an imperative will organize anything we can do to peacefully say hate will not win, racism will not win, but love always wins,” said Caine-Conley.
Police say no arrests were made during Wednesday’s event.
Charlottesville City Council is expected to vote Monday, June 5, on re-naming Lee Park and Jackson Park. Currently, there are no formal plans to remove the statue of Confederate General Thomas Johnathan "Stonewall" Jackson from Jackson Park.