Confederate Groups are Keeping the Lost Cause Myth on Life SupportRoundup
tags: memorials, Confederacy, public history, Lost Cause
Erin L. Thompson is a professor of art crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and the author of Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of American Monuments.
The bronze equestrian statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee came down from its pedestal in Charlottesville’s historic center in July 2021. On Dec. 7, the Charlottesville City Council voted to give the monument to the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, a local nonprofit, which proposed melting down the statue and commissioning an artist to use the bronze to make a new, more unifying piece of public art. But a new lawsuit is seeking to keep the statue intact.
On Dec. 22, Charlottesville and the Jefferson School were sued by a group of plaintiffs who want them to repair and restore the monument to its original condition. The plaintiffs, who operate Confederate heritage sites, are also seeking damages of up to $3 million to compensate them for their “lost opportunity of acquiring [a] historic monument.”
This is not the first time Confederate heritage organizations have gone to court to derail attempts to modify the Charlottesville statue. In February 2017, after months of often contentious debate, the city council approved the statue’s removal to a less prominent location. But an organization formed to protect the statue, called the Monument Fund, along with the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and several other plaintiffs, immediately sued.
A judge issued a preliminary injunction, meaning the statue had to stay in place while the lawsuit made its way through the courts. It was still there in August 2017, when white nationalists’ “Unite the Right” rally, inspired in part by the Lee statue’s planned relocation, turned deadly. James Alex Fields Jr. drove his car through a group of people, killing an anti-racism activist named Heather D. Heyer and injuring 35 others.
Charlottesville’s mayor ordered the Lee monument shrouded in black tarps to mourn Heyer’s death. After the Monument Fund complained that the public’s right to view the statue was obstructed by “giant trash bags,” the judge ordered the covers removed.
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