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Judge Rules Charlottesville’s Confederate Statues Are War Monuments

In the summer of 2017, white nationalists converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, to protest the removal of a monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee. The rally, which descended into violence that left one woman dead, sparked a national reckoning over the nation’s Confederate statues, more than 100 of which have since been taken down. But as Liam Stack reports for the New York Times, a Virginia judge has now ruled that the Lee statue at the heart of the Charlottesville protest, along with another monument to Stonewall Jackson, cannot be removed because they are war memorials.

The lawsuit against Charlottesville’s city council was filed in March 2017—a few months before the protest—by citizens who claimed that councilors had violated state law when they voted to remove the Lee statue. The law in question, enacted in 1904, stipulates that local governments can authorize the building of war memorials, but the power to remove, damage or deface said memorials lies with the state. According to Paul Duggan of the Washington Post, the law originally applied to Virginia counties, but was expanded in 1997 to also include cities.

In the wake of the rally, the city council also voted to take down a statue of Jackson, a Confederate general, and the lawsuit was amended to include that monument as well. As part of its defense, the city argued that the Lee and Jackson statues are not in fact war memorials, but instead symbols of white supremacy; both monuments were erected in the 1920s, during the South’s Jim Crow era.

In an April 25 letter explaining his ruling, Judge Richard E. Moore of the Charlottesville Circuit Court acknowledged that there is “certainly much disputed about [the monuments’] effect and purpose, why they were put there, their impact on people, the justification or rationale for them, and the intent of the benefactor and of the City itself.” But, Moore continued, “there is no real factual dispute as to what they are”—war memorials, in other words, that are therefore protected by the state.

Read entire article at Smithsonian.com