Robert E. Lee Monument (Charlottesville, Virginia)

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Robert Edward Lee
Lee Park, Charlottesville, VA.jpg
The sculpture in January 2006
Robert E. Lee Monument (Charlottesville, Virginia) is located in Virginia
Robert E. Lee Monument (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Robert E. Lee Monument (Charlottesville, Virginia) is located in the United States
Robert E. Lee Monument (Charlottesville, Virginia)
LocationMarket Street Park, bounded by Market, Jefferson, 1st and 2nd streets, Northeast
Coordinates38°1′54″N 78°28′50″W / 38.03167°N 78.48056°W / 38.03167; -78.48056Coordinates: 38°1′54″N 78°28′50″W / 38.03167°N 78.48056°W / 38.03167; -78.48056
Arealess than one acre
Built1924 (1924)
ArchitectHenry Shrady; Leo Lentelli
Architectural stylebronze sculpture
MPSFour Monumental Figurative Outdoor Sculptures in Charlottesville MPS
NRHP reference No.97000447[1]
VLR No.104-0264
Significant dates
Added to NRHPMay 16, 1997
Designated VLRJune 19, 1996[2]
Lee sculpture covered in black tarp following the Unite the Right rally of 2017

The Robert Edward Lee is an outdoor bronze equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee and his horse Traveller. Commissioned in 1917 and dedicated in 1924, it is located in Charlottesville, Virginia's Market Street Park (formerly Emancipation Park, and before that Lee Park) in the Charlottesville and Albemarle County Courthouse Historic District. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.[1]

The statue has been at the center of controversy over removal of Confederate monuments and memorials. Following the first-degree murder of 32-year-old Heather Heyer at the 2017 Unite the Right rally the City Council of Charlottesville voted 3 to 2 in favor of its removal, along with a statue of Stonewall Jackson. When Virginia state law blocked removal, the Council had it shrouded in black on August 23, 2017; a judge ordered the shroud to be removed in February 2018.


In 1917, Paul Goodloe McIntire commissioned the statue from the artist Henry Shrady (1871–1922). It was the second of four works he commissioned from members of the National Sculpture Society. McIntire wanted a public setting for the statue, buying a city block of land and demolishing existing structures on it to create a formal landscaped square, later named Lee Park, the first of four parks he would donate to Charlottesville.[3]

Shrady was chronically ill at the time of the commission – he worked on it slowly and it was still unfinished on his death in 1922. Leo Lentelli (1879–1961) completed the sculpture in 1924, and it was dedicated on May 21 of that year. It was cast in the Roman Bronze Works of Brooklyn, New York. Comparison with a surviving model of the proposed statue by Shrady reveals Lentelli's version is less animated than that intended by Shrady. The oval granite pedestal was designed by the architect Walter Blair and on its side has the inscription "Robert Edward Lee" with the dates 1807 and 1870. The sculpture and pedestal combined are approximately 26 feet high, 12 feet long, and 8 feet wide (7.9 m × 3.7 m × 2.4 m) at the bottom of the pedestal.[3]

Proposed removal[edit]

In an open-air press conference beside the Robert E. Lee statue in March 2016, Charlottesville's Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy called on Charlottesville City Council to remove the statue and rename Lee Park. He said that the statue's presence "disrespected" parts of the community, and that he had "spoken with several different people who have said they have refused to step foot in to that park because of what that statue and the name of that park represents. And we can't have that in the city of Charlottesville."[4]

Local NAACP head Rick Turner spoke in support of removal, calling Lee a terrorist. Others accused the city council and Bellamy of disregarding Lee's historical significance; overlooking his importance to Virginia; sowing division; and trying to rewrite history. A petition to remove the statue was initiated, with wording saying the statue represented "hate" and was a "subliminal message of racism".[5][6]

In April 2016, the City Council decided to appoint a special commission, named the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Monuments and Public Spaces, to recommend to city officials how to best handle issues surrounding statues of Stonewall Jackson (Thomas Jonathan Jackson) in Court Square and Lee in Lee Park, as well as other landmarks and monuments. Early in November 2016, the Blue Ribbon Commission voted 6–3 to let both statues remain in place.[7] On November 28, 2016, it voted 7–2 to remove the Lee statue to McIntire Park in Charlottesville and 8–1 to keep the Jackson statue in place,[8] delivering a final report with that recommendation to Charlottesville City Council in December.[8]

On February 6, 2017, Charlottesville's five-member City Council voted three votes to two to remove the Lee statue and, unanimously, to rename Lee Park.[9]

In response, a lawsuit was filed on March 20 by numerous plaintiffs, including the Monument Fund Inc, the Sons of Confederate Veterans, and descendants of the statue's donor and sculptor, to block the removal of the Lee and Jackson statues. The lawsuit sought a temporary injunction to halt the removal, arguing that Charlottesville City Council's decision violated a state law designed to protect American Civil War monuments and memorials, and that the council had additionally violated the terms of McIntire's gift to Charlottesville of the statue and the land for Lee Park.[10] The city responded by asking that the temporary injunction be denied, arguing that the two statues were not erected to commemorate the Civil War and therefore the Virginia statute protecting war monuments does not apply.[11]

In April 2017, the City Council voted three to two (exactly along the lines of the February vote) that the statue be removed completely from Charlottesville and sold to whoever the Council chooses.[12]

On May 2, 2017, Judge Richard Moore issued a temporary injunction blocking the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue for six months, in the public's interest, pending a court decision in the suit.[11]

Sometime overnight between Friday July 7 and Saturday July 8, 2017, the statue was vandalized by being daubed in red paint.[13] It had been vandalized before; in June 2016 the pedestal was spray painted with the words "Black Lives Matter".[6]

On August 20, 2017, the City Council unanimously voted to shroud the statue, and that of Stonewall Jackson, in black. The Council "also decided to direct the city manager to take an administrative step that would make it easier to eventually remove the Jackson statue."[14] The statues were covered in black shrouds on August 23, 2017.[15] On Tuesday, February 27, 2018 Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Richard Moore ruled that the City of Charlottesville must remove the black tarps covering the statues, and the city complied removing the shrouds a day later.[16]

In 2018, the monument was placed on the Make It Right Project's[citation needed] list of ten Confederate monuments it most wanted to see removed.[17]

In 2019, Judge Moore ruled that removing the Lee statue would violate a state historic preservation statute. He issued a permanent injunction preventing its removal and extended it to a separate monument to Confederate general Stonewall Jackson that city leaders wanted to get rid of.[18] In 2020, Virginia modified the historic preservation statute that Moore cited to give localities the ability to remove or re-contextualize their Confederate monuments and the plaintiffs in the case asked the judge to partially dissolve the injunction.[19]

Protests against its removal[edit]

On May 13, 2017, Richard B. Spencer led a torch-lit rally in Lee Park in protest of the Charlottesville town council's decision to remove and sell the statue and chanted "Jews will not replace us" and "Russia is our friend".[20][21][22][23] Some of the ralliers procured bamboo tiki torches for a second, nighttime rally, but put out their torches and left as police officers began to arrive to disperse them.[21]

Protesters to the rally itself gathered the following day and held a silent candlelight vigil that attracted over a hundred of the town's citizens,[22][24] and the incumbent mayor of Charlottesville, Michael Signer. Signer, who opposed the statue's removal, condemned the initial rally the night before. The organizations dedicated to preserving the Robert E. Lee statue issued a statement denying any involvement in the rally.[21] Despite some conflict, no arrests were made and no one was injured.[23][20]

On July 8, 2017, the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Charlottesville protesting the city's plan to remove the statue. The approximately 50 Klansmen were met by several hundred counter-protesters. The police used tear gas to disperse the crowd, and made 23 arrests.[25]

On August 12, 2017, during the Unite the Right rally, clashes broke out between supporters of the statue, who marched under Confederate, American, and Revolutionary flags and shouted slogans including "You will not replace us", and counter-protesters. During the rally, counter-protester Heather Heyer was killed and 19 injured by a car ramming attack.[26]

On April 25, 2019 Judge Richard E. Moore of Charlottesville Circuit Court ruled that local authorities in Charlottesville cannot remove two Confederate statues because they are war memorials protected by state law. In October 14, 2019, both it and the statue of Stonewall Jackson were damaged by a chisel (the Jackson statue being damaged a second time, as it was prior in September). Charlottesville police are currently investigating the vandalism. [27]

On November 28, 2019, the statue was painted with graffiti, saying: "Impeach Trump" and "This is Racist". [28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.
  2. ^ "Virginia Landmarks Register". Virginia Department of Historic Resources. Retrieved 5 June 2013.
  3. ^ a b Betsey Gohdes-Baten (April 1996). "National Register of Historic Places Inventory/Nomination: Robert Edward Lee Sculpture" (PDF). Virginia Department of Historic Resources. and Accompanying photo
  4. ^ "Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy: Take Down Robert E. Lee Statue". Archived from the original on October 17, 2019.CS1 maint: unfit url (link)
  5. ^ "People Show Support for, Opposition to Lee Statue in Charlottesville".
  6. ^ a b Fortin, Jacey (August 13, 2017). "The Statue at the Center of Charlottesville's Storm" – via
  7. ^ "Commission Votes 6-3 to Keep Confederate Statues in Charlottesville". Archived from the original on 2019-08-08. Retrieved 2019-08-08.
  8. ^ a b "Blue Ribbon Commission Votes on Plans for Statues at Final Meeting".
  9. ^ Laughland, Oliver (May 14, 2017). "White nationalist Richard Spencer at rally over Confederate statue's removal". The Guardian. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  10. ^ "Groups File Lawsuit to Stop Removal of Confederate Statues".
  11. ^ a b "Judge halts removal of Lee statue for 6 months". Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  12. ^ Charlottesville City Council Votes to Sell Statue by Bid, Rename Lee Park [1] Archived 2017-08-24 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ "Lee Statue Vandalized Ahead of KKK Rally in Charlottesville".
  14. ^ Brown, Emma (August 22, 2017). "Charlottesville City Council votes to shroud Confederate statues in black". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 23, 2017.
  15. ^ FOX. "Charlottesville's Confederate statues shrouded in black". Archived from the original on August 24, 2017. Retrieved August 24, 2017.
  16. ^ "Shrouds Pulled From Charlottesville Confederate Statues, Following Ruling".
  17. ^ Independent Media Institute (2018). "10 Most Unwanted". Retrieved November 5, 2018.
  18. ^ Van Sant, Shannon (14 September 2019). "Judge Blocks Removal Of Confederate Statue That Sparked Charlottesville Protest". NPR. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  19. ^ Woods, Charlotte Renee (22 June 2020). "City Council waiting for judge to alter injunction to go ahead with process to remove Confederate monuments". Charlottesville Tomorrow.
  20. ^ a b McCausland, Phil (13 May 2017). "White Nationalist Leads Torch-Bearing Protesters Against Removal of Confederate Statue". NBC News. NBC. NBC. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  21. ^ a b c Hensley, Nicole (2017-05-14). "Torch-wielding protesters chanting 'Russia is our friend' rally at Confederate statue in Virginia". NY Daily News. Retrieved 2017-05-16.
  22. ^ a b "Mayor: Torch-lit protest in Charlottesville, Va. "hearkens back to the days of the KKK"". CBS News. May 15, 2017. Retrieved May 15, 2017.
  23. ^ a b Laughland, Oliver. "White nationalist Richard Spencer at rally over Confederate statue's removal". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 May 2017.
  24. ^ Wise, Scott. "Counter-rally lights up Lee Park with candles, not torches". CBS 6. CBS. Retrieved 15 May 2017.
  25. ^ Ellis, Ralph (July 8, 2017). "Counterprotesters outnumber, confront Klan supporters at Virginia KKK rally". CNN. Retrieved July 8, 2017.
  26. ^ "State of emergency declared amid violence at Charlottesville's 'Unite the Right' rally". CNN. August 12, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2017.
  27. ^ Stack, Liam (May 1, 2019). "Charlottesville Confederate Statues Are Protected by State Law, Judge Rules" – via
  28. ^ "Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville tagged with 'Impeach Trump' on Thanksgiving". 2019-12-01. Retrieved 2019-12-01.