Before that, cheers from the gathering had risen when bronze plaques came from the sides of the monument and a cannon was lifted from the floor. The crowd – all in masks, many with blue Union Civil War caps – chatted and danced to music broadcast on a local radio station over the beeping sound of work trucks moving in the square.
The happy scene was, for many, a rejection of the deadly violence of the Unite the Right rally held here by white supremacists three years ago.
“This is a great moment,”
Albemarle County regulators voted earlier this summer to overthrow the figure of a Confederate soldier outside their Charlottesville courthouse.
Known as “At Ready”, the statue was not the focus of the violent rally in 2017 in which a counter-protester died. But it is only a block from the Robert E. Lee statue that white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups said they were defending themselves in the clash that continues as a symbol of the nation’s apartheid.
Charlottesville City Council has decided to remove both Lee and a nearby memorial to fellow General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, but a small group of Confederate supporters have filed lawsuits to rescue them. The case will be referred to the Virginia Supreme Court and may take months to resolve.
In the meantime, armed individuals and militia groups continued to regularly “patrol” all Confederate figures in the vicinity of the courthouse. Small groups of police officers had been standing in various places around the courthouse square early Friday evening, but the streets were quiet except for a few onlookers.
District and city officials had erected metal and plastic barriers around the courthouse on Friday to keep people out of the work area and raised concerns about the need to maintain social distance to avoid the spread of the novel coronavirus. They urged residents to follow the event via live stream on Albemarle County’s social media on Saturday.
A judge’s injunction contesting his lawsuit was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court, which ruled that the plaintiff had no legal standing.
Albemarle was the first Virginia site to use a Civil War statue removal process that was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law Northam earlier this year. It went into effect on July 1, and Albemarle’s superiors moved that day to schedule a public hearing on the matter.
After a public comment phase, the board of directors unanimously voted in early August to dismantle the statue erected in 1909 along with two cannons and a stack of cannonballs. It spent an additional 30 days getting suggestions for moving the memorial and agreed to send the group of objects to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation earlier this week.
Based in New Market, the foundation helps maintain and promote tourism on the battlefields of the Civil War in eight counties that were collectively designated as a national historic district in 1996. Foundation officials could not be reached to comment on their specific plans for the statue.
The number will be removed in sections, with the county paying about $ 60,000 for a local forklift crew and the Battlefields Foundation paying $ 3,600 for pickup trucks, Albemarle spokeswoman Emily Kilroy said.
The bronze statue at the top is believed to weigh about 900 pounds, but officials don’t know whether the pile of wedding cakes that forms the pedestal below is solid or hollow, Kilroy said. Saturday’s dismantling will be a discovery process, she said – including the discovery of a time capsule placed somewhere under the figure when it was being erected.
University of Virginia keepers will be on hand to examine and hold all items in the time capsule.
Activists who long struggled to eliminate Confederate symbols from Charlottesville welcomed the removal as a first step, but expressed their disappointment that the memorial would be rebuilt in a different part of Virginia.
“We believe that this is really just about disposing of toxic waste in another community,” said Jalane Schmidt, associate professor at the University of Virginia.