The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center (JSAAHC), a Charlottesville, Virginia, non-profit organization, has submitted an offer to the Charlottesville City Council to acquire ownership of the city’s recently removed statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee.

Related story: City receives just one local proposal for Confederate statues, and the organization wants to melt Lee down

The JSAAHC’s proposal, entitled “Swords Into Plowshares,” intends to disassemble and melt down the Lee statue, and to commission an artist-in-residence to repurpose the bronze material to create new public art. Upon completion, resulting works of art would be offered to the City of Charlottesville for public installation.

Describing “Swords Into Plowshares,” JSAAHC Executive Director Dr. Andrea Douglas spoke of its intention to invite input from the descendants of enslaved persons. “SIP’s community engagement process would begin in 2022, the 120th anniversary of Virginia’s 1902 state constitution which entrenched Jim Crow rule. The SIP project is driven by the voices of our community who were deliberately disenfranchised by this constitution, which was not overturned until the 1970s. Our outcomes will not be determined by a single philanthropic voice as was the case when Paul Goodloe McIntire gifted representations of white supremacy to Charlottesville, but rather will represent the desires of the entire community for values-driven, socially just objects in our public spaces.”

The statue of Lee, which was installed in a Charlottesville downtown park in 1924, sparked debate in 2016, when a petition and series of public hearings pressured the City Council to remove it, which they voted to do in early 2017. Opponents claimed that the decision would violate a century-old state law which prohibited the removal of war memorials, and filed a lawsuit against the city. Local judge Richard Moore issued an injunction preventing the city from carrying out its intention to remove the Lee statue. White supremacists staged numerous protests in the city during what residents call the “Summer of Hate,” centered on the Lee monument and a second nearby monument to Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. At the violent Unite the Right rally on August 12, 2017, dozens of counter-protesters were injured and one woman, Heather Heyer, was killed in a car attack by a white supremacist. In 2020, a new state law went into effect that allows local authorities to remove Confederate statues, and on April 1, 2021, the Virginia State Supreme Court overruled Judge Moore’s ruling and lifted the injunction.

The Charlottesville City Council has received numerous offers from organizations that wish to claim the two statues, which were finally removed on July 10, 2021. The City Council has until January 13, 2022, to consider the offers.

“Swords Into Plowshares is Charlottesville’s opportunity to lead by creating a road map that can be followed by other communities that wish to impact history,” Dr. Douglas explained. “It’s our hope that our entire community will embrace this defining moment. The Jefferson School has been at the center of many of our city’s conversations about race. These many experiences have positioned it, along with its partners in the process, to be able to deliver meaningful outcomes.”

The Jefferson School’s “Swords Into Plowshares” proposal has raised over $500,000 in funding commitments. Its application is supported by many local, state, and national arts and advocacy organizations, including The Memory Project of the University of Virginia’s Democracy Initiative, the Descendants of Enslaved Communities of the University of Virginia, student activists, the Charlottesville Black Arts Collective, local clergy and religious groups, The Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, Virginia state delegate Sally Hudson (D-57), The Valentine Museum, Virginia Humanities, Open Society Foundations, and the Equal Justice Initiative.

The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center’s mission is to honor and preserve the rich heritage and legacy of the African American community of Charlottesville-Albemarle, Virginia and to promote a greater appreciation for and understanding of, the contributions of African Americans and peoples of the African Diaspora locally, nationally and globally.

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