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article imageVirginia Supreme Court rules city can remove Confederate statues

By Karen Graham     Apr 1, 2021 in Politics
Charlottesville - Virginia's highest court ruled Thursday that the city of Charlottesville can take down two statues of Confederate generals, including one of Robert E. Lee that became the focus of a violent white nationalist rally in 2017.
The state Supreme Court overturned a Circuit Court decision in favor of a group of residents who sued to block the city from taking down the General Robert E. Lee statue and a nearby monument to fellow General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, reports
Charlottesville’s city council voted to remove both statues following a "Unite the Right" rally in August 2017, organized by white supremacists and neo-Nazis, that turned violent. The two groups claimed they had come to Charlottesville to defend the Lee statue, however, they clashed with counter-protesters before a man plowed his car into a crowd of people, killing a woman.
The Jackson statue was erected in Jackson Park in 1921, and the Lee statue was erected in Lee Park in 1924. Both sites were donated to the city by a local resident as parks.
The "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville  Virginia in August 2017 was the largest ex...
The "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017 was the largest extreme-right gathering in the United States in decades, drawing numerous neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups -- and thousands of anti-extremism activists
City officials praised the Virginia Supreme Court ruling today, and said they plan on redesigning the park spaces "in a way that promotes healing and that tells a more complete history of Charlottesville.”
Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker thanked the community "for their steadfastness and perseverance over the past five years. For all of us, who were on the right side of history, Bravo!”
High Court Decision
In Thursday's decision, State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Goodwyn said both statues were erected long before the passage of a law regulating the “disturbance of or interference with” war memorials or monuments.
“In other words, (the law) did not provide the authority for the City to erect the Statues, and it does not prohibit the City from disturbing or interfering with them,” Goodwyn wrote.
C.J. Paschall/NBC News
Justice Goodwyn was referring to a state law enacted in 1997 that barred local governments from removing them. The statues pre-date that law by many decades.
The 1997 law "did not provide the authority for the City to erect the Statues, and it does not prohibit the City from disturbing or interfering with them,” Goodwyn wrote. The high court also ruled that the circuit court erred in ordering the city to pay $365,000 in plaintiffs’ attorneys’ fees and costs.
As a historical note - the 1997 law was repealed in 2020 when the Democrats gained control of the General Assembly in the 2019 elections. Since then, local governments across the state have removed statues that stood for a century or more.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring said he knew four years ago the 1997 law did not apply retroactively, and “was not the blanket prohibition that its proponents had made it out to be.” Thursday's ruling "confirmed that we were right,” Herring added in a statement.
“I have worked hard to help remove poisonous Confederate propaganda from our publicly-owned spaces because I believe it glorifies a false history and sends a dangerous and divisive message about who and what we value,” he said.
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