A public comment in the last few minutes of Monday’s City Council meeting prompted Councilors to discuss when they’ll decide what to do with the recently removed statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson.
The Council had not discussed the matter since its Oct. 15 deadline for individuals and organizations to submit offers for the statues.
The city received six proposals from groups and individuals throughout the country. Only one of those proposals came from a local organization. The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center’s “Swords Into Plowshares” bid seeks to acquire and melt the Lee statue down into ingots, then transform the metal into another piece of artwork.
“I believe that the [JSAAHC] proposal, in and of itself, is an important opportunity for us as a community in creating something,” Larycia Hawkins, a University of Virginia faculty member with a joint appointment in the politics and religious studies departments, told Council. “The opportunity to not only heal, but to re-narrate history, to create new and different kinds of memories in place of the lasting memory of oppression of the previous statues.”
Councilor Lloyd Snook asked, “What is our plan at this point about making decisions about statues? Do we have a timeline? Do we have a schedule at this point?”
Mayor Nikuyah Walker asked the City Manager’s office staff for any updates on the matter. (The city has operated without a city manager since Monday, after former City Manager Chip Boyles left the position.)
Previously, in the case of the Sacagawea and Lewis and Clark statue, Council directed Boyles to create a process to decide the statue’s fate with the help of city staff, Deputy City Manager for Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Ashley Reynolds Marshall reminded Council. “We are open to providing assistance in whatever way that we can. We do, of course, have access to the applications, but the movement on that will need to be done by the Council making a decision,” Marshall said.
Marshall also noted that “there is a time clock that is attached to the submissions.” Council has until January to make a decision on these proposals before the 120 day window elapses.
“So there’s no plan at this point, but we could move if we wanted to?” Snook asked.
Marshall confirmed that is indeed the case.
Walker said that the conversation about a decision can be added to a future City Council agenda before the year is up, and both she and Councilor Heather Hill roll off Council and two new councilors are sworn in on January 1, 2022.
Snook indicated that he would like to move forward before the end of the year.
In the final minutes of the meeting, Walker mentioned that she guesses staff turnover in city hall is part of what’s impeding progress on deciding what to do with the two statues.
“I definitely want to be able to support the Jefferson School’s request,” Walker said, “and I’m concerned about the energy in the object. I’m struggling with that, but I would like to support the request if they think they can turn it into something that’s healing.”