Group files suit to stop re­moval of park stat­ues

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - VIR­GINIA BY JUSTIN WM. MOYER justin.moyer@wash­post.com

For al­most 100 years, two parks in Char­lottesville have hon­ored two Con­fed­er­ate gen­er­als: Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jack­son, the vis­age of each en­shrined in bronze.

After white su­prem­a­cist Dy­lann Roof killed nine black parish­ioners at a church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015, some Con­fed­er­ate sym­bols across the South be­gan to come down. In Fe­bru­ary, the Char­lottesville City Coun­cil voted to re­name Lee Park and Jack­son Park, re­move the statue of Lee and in­clude a me­mo­rial to those who suf­fered un­der slav­ery.

But last week, Vir­ginia’s Sons of Con­fed­er­ate Vet­er­ans, a fund ded­i­cated to “de­fend­ing our his­toric mon­u­ments,” and 11 cit­i­zens sued Char­lottesville and its city coun­cil, say­ing the coun­cil’s vote on the is­sue showed “to­tal dis­re­gard” for Vir­ginia law.

“The Lee statue and the Jack­son statue are Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments and memo­ri­als of the War Be­tween the States,” ac­cord­ing to the law­suit filed Mon­day in Char­lottesville Cir­cuit Court. “De­fen­dants are re­quired by law to pro­tect and to pre­serve the afore­said his­toric mon­u­ments.”

The law­suit asked for an in­junc­tion to “freeze the sta­tus quo in both parks and stop any po­ten­tial de­struc­tion while this com­plex lit­i­ga­tion moves for­ward,” ac­cord­ing to a state­ment from the Mon­u­ment Fund, a plain­tiff in the suit.

Plain­tiffs also sought $500 each and $100,000 in puni­tive dam­ages, and they said the price of “re­mov­ing and re­lo­cat­ing” the Lee mon­u­ment would be $330,000.

Other plain­tiffs in the suit in­clude a rel­a­tive of the Lee statue’s sculp­tor, a wo­man who “per­son­ally ex­pended money and ef­fort” re­mov­ing graf­fiti from the statue, and a man who do­nated money for the restora­tion of both stat­ues in the 1990s, ac­cord­ing to the suit.

Char­lottesville’s city at­tor­ney didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. The plain­tiffs’ at­tor­neys also de­clined to com­ment but re­ferred to a post on the web­site of the Mon­u­ment Fund.

“If we re­move the mon­u­ments, we are try­ing to hide our own his­tory, de­stroy­ing ir­re­place­able his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence, works of art, and for what?” the state­ment said. “What do we gain? An empty lawn teaches noth­ing.”

Charles L. We­ber Jr., a Char­lottesville at­tor­ney and plain­tiff in the suit, said those who wish to de­fend the stat­ues had “no re­course but to pro­ceed in a court of law.”

“The [stat­ues] are Con­fed­er­ate mon­u­ments and memo­ri­als of the War Be­tween the States.” Text from the law­suit filed Mon­day

Kath­leen M. Galvin, an ar­chi­tect and city coun­cil mem­ber who voted against re­mov­ing the Lee statue, said the law­suit was “un­for­tu­nate” be­cause it pre­served a sta­tus quo no one on the coun­cil was happy with. Not­ing that the stat­ues were “well-re­spected works of art,” she pre­ferred plac­ing a me­mo­rial to slaves near the Lee statue.

“Re­mov­ing the stat­ues erases and mit­i­gates his­tory; fail­ing to al­ter the parks so as to tell a more com­plete story, how­ever, ob­scures and bi­ases his­tory,” she wrote in an email.

Bob Fen­wick, a Char­lottesville coun­cil mem­ber who voted to re­move the Lee statue, said he was partly swayed by a com­mis­sion’s rec­om­men­da­tion last year that the park be changed — and also was dis­turbed by the be­hav­ior of some Con­fed­er­ate en­thu­si­asts who showed up to city coun­cil meet­ings armed.

“They don’t act any­thing like what a South­ern gentle­man would act like,” he said. “There’s some­thing a lot deeper and darker go­ing on there.”

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