High court: Charlottesville can remove Confederate statues

Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia
Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia's highest court ruled Thursday that the city of Charlottesville can take down two statues of Confederate generals, including one of Robert E. Lee that became the focus of a violent white nationalist rally in 2017.

The state Supreme Court overturned a Circuit Court decision in favor of a group of residents who sued to block the city from taking down the Lee statue and a nearby monument to fellow Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Charlottesville’s city council voted to remove both.

White supremacist and neo-Nazi organizers of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville said they went to the city to defend the statue of Lee. They clashed with counterprotesters before a man plowed his car into a crowd of people, killing a woman.

The Jackson statue was erected in Jackson Park in 1921 and the Lee statue was erected in Lee Park in 1924. In 1918, the city had accepted a resident's offer to donate land for parks for both statutes.

City officials praised the ruling in a statement Thursday and said they plan to redesign the park spaces where the statues are located "in a way that promotes healing and that tells a more complete history of Charlottesville.”

Charlottesville Mayor Nikuyah Walker thanked the community "for their steadfastness and perseverance over the past five years. For all of us, who were on the right side of history, Bravo!”

In Thursday's decision, State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Goodwyn said both statues were erected long before a 1997 state law that barred local governments from removing them.

He wrote that the law should not be applied retroactively; those seeking to keep the statues in place had argued the legislature's obvious intent was to do just that.