Charlottesville student petitions to have Robert E. Lee statue removed

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (NEWSPLEX) -- A high school student in Charlottesville has started a petition to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park in the downtown part of Charlottesville.

Some members of the Charlottesville City Council think it's a good idea, and the petition has already gotten more than 200 supporters.

"I feel like anything that I feel passionate about, I'm going to be brave and do what I can to make a change," said high school student Zyhana Bryant.

The determined ninth grader at Charlottesville High School started a petition to remove the Robert E. Lee statue from Lee Park., which she says is something she's been thinking of doing for quite a while.

"I realize that there had been a lot of controversy about the statue in the past, particularly with councilwoman Kristin Szakos, and I kind of feel like the timing wasn't the best maybe as far as what was going on in the General Assembly last year in 2015," said Bryant. "And I thought that now was the better opportunity to make a change."

In the petition, Bryant says the statue makes her and her peers feel uncomfortable, that it's very offensive. For that reason, they don't visit the park.

"We're not trying to erase history. That's not what we're trying to do, and I think people are also trying to misinterpret what we are trying to do, what we are trying to do is make it more welcoming," she said.

The statue was donated by Paul McIntire in 1924. It has been controversial for years, and now city government leaders are also calling for it to be removed.

"So many people don't participate in local government because they don't understand the way that it works, and then they defiantly don't participate in national government because they feel like their vote doesn't count, their voice isn't heard," said Bryant. "Here in Charlottesville we can make such a big impact because it's such a small area."

Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., city leaders will hold a press conference in Lee Park to call for the statue's removal.

Charlottesville Mayor Mike Signer released the following statement on Charlottesville's Confederate Memorials:

March 21, 2016

Charlottesville is indeed a world-class city. But we have dark chapters in our past, including slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow, segregation, Massive Resistance, and Vinegar Hill. We see one of those chapters every time we’re in Lee Park or Court Square, where, in the 1920s, City leaders elected to celebrate the Confederacy and, by extension, slavery by placing large monuments to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. As historical photographs document, these installations occurred with parades of thousands of people celebrating the Confederate cause. We can only imagine how exclusionary those events were.

With the passage of time and our long march toward inclusion, social justice, and societal progress, we can now see those choices for what they were: mistakes that demeaned our brothers and sisters and stained a fine city’s legacy. To quote Mayor Mitch Landrieu of New Orleans on another great Southern city’s decision to move its Confederate memorials to museums:

“Symbols matter and should reflect who we are as a people. These monuments do not now, nor have they ever reflected the history, the strength, the richness, the diversity or the soul of who we are as a people and a city. This is the right thing to do and now is the time to do it. Moving the location of these monuments — from prominent public places in our city where they are revered to a place where they can be remembered — changes only their geography, not our history.”

I believe we must continually strive to heal the wounds created by slavery and racism in our community. For me, this decision is not about one man or one statue. It’s about how we reckon today with the City’s shameful decisions, during the Jim Crow era, to celebrate the Confederacy in our public places. However, as the Mayor of the whole City, I need to make an informed and deliberative decision on this matter. We’ve already heard from many Charlottesvillians on both sides, and I will continue to listen and learn in the weeks ahead. I believe we should rely on the wisdom of our remarkable community by creating a “Blue Ribbon Commission on Confederate Memorials” that will work on issues including:

1. Ample engagement with the community through public hearings and efforts like the petition underway

2. Evaluating and advising on the full range of options before us, including moving the memorials to a museum, changing their context to reflect current values, and adding new memorials

3. Fully explaining the policy behind the effort, including which memorials may be included in the policy and why

4. Assessing the costs involved, including moving monuments and creating new ones

5. Developing both a funding and fundraising strategy for any effort

6. Determining the appropriate historical location where memorials might be moved

I believe this Task Force should be created within 30 days, and should report back to Council on the above questions within 90 days. Finally, I believe Council should also order a full legal review of any obstacles from our attorneys, and that the Task Force should also be advised by our counsel.

In the weeks ahead, I plan on discussing this proposal with my colleagues and with the community, as we forge, together, a path from the darkness of the past to a brighter future.

Mayor Mike Signer
City of Charlottesville
(434) 970-3113
A World-Class City

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