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  • Writer's picturegmason11


The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia that was taken down in July of 2021 has been melted down by the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. Associated Press reports that on Oct. 27, 2023 that, as indicated in their proposal to the Charlottesville city council in 2021, the African American Heritage Center has melted down the statue with the intent in their words to repurpose it “ into public art that expresses the city’s values of inclusivity and racial justice.”

It is noteworthy that the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (formerly an elementary school) opened in 2013 as an information and education center that also hosts rotating exhibitions. Their mission is to “honor and preserve the rich heritage and legacy of the African American community of Charlottesville/Albemarle, Virginia and to promote greater appreciation for and understanding of the contributions of African Americans”. They further offer an equity statement that “strives to build a culture where diversity of all kinds, including diversity in race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, veteran status, physical and mental abilities, political philosophy, socio-economic status and intellectual focus, is viewed as a strategic imperative…”. If you are interested in reading their full “word-salad” statement, feel free to visit their website. As with most equity and diversity today, it falls under the incoherence of promoting “everyone” while leaving out the majority population of the United States. Their method of promoting a greater appreciation for African American contributions is to proudly erase any history that includes people of European descent so as not to offend or compete with their “honorable” history. The Heritage Center only studies from post-emancipation to the present conveniently excluding Civil War or pre-war history and begs the question of why they even care about the Lee statue to begin with. Apparently a statue that stands alone as a work of art cannot be tolerated, nor can it be used as a moral to the story of the American Civil War.

The Lee statue that was melted down was originally commissioned by philanthropist Paul Goodloe McIntire in 1917 to honor General Lee. He approached the famous sculptor Henry Merwin Shrady to create the sculpture. Shrady was awarded in 1903, the very prestigious Grant statue that stands in front of the western facade of the U. S. Capitol. Writing of Shrady,  Donald Martin Reynolds observes in his “ Masters of American Sculpture” that his “Washington at Valley Forge of 1906 “ at the foot of the Williamsburg bridge in Brooklyn, N.Y. is “one of the most moving equestrian monuments to General Washington.” His equestrian  Lee  captures much of the same drama and spirit. 

The foundryman who melted down Shrady’s Lee was quoted by  the Washington Post as saying  “that it was an honor, especially to destroy hate.” To this foundryman and all others that are involved in this act of senseless and callous destruction, be assured that alleviating hate is absolutely the last thing that you have accomplished. How does destroying art persuade anyone? More likely it will be construed as revisionist history creating even more hate that you claim to want to reduce. In the words of John,Viscount Morley, On Compromise 1874 “You have not converted a man because you have silenced him.”   

The so-called “destruction of hate” is not the sole responsibility of Jefferson School.  The City of Charlottesville allowed things to move forward and therefore bears the blame as well. While  the school and city claim to be promoting inclusivity and justice; it is neither inclusive nor just to destroy both a masterful sculpture and monument to the past. By repurposing it into public art they reveal their true intention which is to both replace heritage they dislike with a version of their own using costly material that was neither paid for nor created by them.  It is the very definition of pride, prejudice and theft.

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