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Charlottesville transforms confederate monument into inclusive public art

By Jake Beardslee · October 28, 2023

In brief…

  • Statue had sparked 2017 "Unite the Right" rally and protests
  • Project "Swords Into Plowshares" arranging to use melted bronze for new public sculpture
  • Those involved kept melting process confidential due to threats and legal concerns
  • Minister called displaying Confederate statues a sin at melting ceremony
The controversial statue of Robert E. Lee that sparked protests in Charlottesville, Virginia has been melted down to create a new public sculpture  Anthony Crider / Wikimedia

After a prolonged legal battle, the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that formerly stood in Charlottesville, Virginia and sparked the infamous 2017 “Unite the Right” rally has been secretly melted down in a ceremonial event, according to NPR.

The bronze likeness was reportedly melted in a 2,250-degree furnace to create raw material for a new public art piece in Charlottesville. Footage of the melting process circulated widely on social media. The Washington Post stated that a local project called “Swords Into Plowshares,” led by University of Virginia professor Jalane Schmidt and Charlottesville Black history museum director Andrea Douglas, arranged for the private demolition and will use the melted Lee statue to craft a new sculpture for public display.

Due to “past threats” and potential “legal action,” those involved went to great lengths to keep the melting process confidential until now, said the Post. Schmidt likened the destruction of the polarizing monument to “putting down a rabid dog” that was harming the community. She told the Post, “It’s a better sculpture right now than it’s ever been. We’re taking away what it meant for some people and transforming it.”

The newspaper reported that a United Methodist minister, Rev. Isaac Collins delivered a sermon at the melting ceremony. Collins has previously stated his view that displaying Confederate monuments is a sin. The Post indicated the foundry owner who melted down the statue felt “the trauma will be gone when Black people pass squares where Confederate statues once stood.”

Schmidt told NPR her group aims to “transform something that has been toxic in the Charlottesville community” into inclusive public art. She added, “People are willing to die for symbols. And as we saw in Charlottesville, they’re willing to kill for them, too.”