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Charlottesville removes Confederate statue at center of deadly 2017 protest

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is removed after years of a legal battle over the contentious monument, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the U.S on July 10, 2021.
A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is removed after years of a legal battle over the contentious monument, in Charlottesville, Virginia, the U.S on July 10, 2021.
Image: EVELYN HOCKSTEIN

A statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was taken down in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday, nearly four years after white supremacist protests over plans to remove it led to clashes in which a woman was run down by a car and killed.

Onlookers cheered as the statue was put on a truck and driven away. City authorities had welcomed viewers from 6 a.m. to the site of the statue in Market Street Park.

Statues honoring leaders of the pro-slavery Confederate side in the American Civil War have become a focus of protests against racism in recent years.

After the removal of the Lee statue, the focus will now move to a second park in the city where a statue of Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson is due for removal, according to city spokesperson Brian Wheeler.

The city's planned removal of the Lee statue in 2017 prompted a rally by neo-Nazis and white nationalists that turned deadly when a car driven into a crowd killed a counter-protester, 32-year-old Heather Heyer.

Weeks later the Charlottesville city council unanimously ordered the Jackson statue to be removed.

Citizens including the Virginia Division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans sued Charlottesville over the removal plans. In April, Virginia's highest court ruled the city could remove the two Confederate statues, overturning a state Circuit Court decision that had upheld the citizen lawsuit.

The city installed protective fencing and designated no-parking zones around the parks in anticipation of Saturday's removals, according to a Friday statement.

Asked whether the city was aware of any planned protests, Wheeler said, "an indication of how we feel about this is, we're inviting the public to join us in the park."

"We think a lot of our community members really want to be there to see this happen."

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