One statue, which sat in a grassy park on the University of Virginia campus, showed Revolutionary War general George Rogers Clark riding a horse toward three unarmed Native Americans as two frontiersmen waited behind him, one of them in the act of raising his rifle. The pedestal declared in engraved letters, “CONQUEROR OF THE NORTHWEST,” a reference to his battle prowess against the British.
The second statue, outside a downtown federal courthouse and meant to honor Lewis and Clark’s expedition to the Pacific, showed Meriwether Lewis and William Clark standing straight and staring into the distance as Sacagawea crouched at their side.
The takedown of the Rogers Clark statue Sunday had been months in the making: A U-Va. racial equity task force recommended removing it last summer, and the university’s Board of Visitors approved the suggestion that fall, according to the Daily Progress. By contrast, the Charlottesville City Council voted unanimously in an emergency meeting Saturday to take down the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue.
The removals can be traced to years of activism, said Anthony Guy Lopez, a U-Va. graduate and Crow Creek Sioux tribal member who began petitioning the city to take down the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue in 2009. He called the twin takedowns “an exorcism of state violence” against Native Americans.
“If art can be evil, these were evil,” Lopez said. “What this says to American Indians is that violence is part of our lives, and that we have to not only accept but glorify it.”
U-Va. officials did not respond to requests for comment Sunday. The Daily Progress reported that the removal of the Rogers Clark statue would take several days and cost about $400,000. The university has not announced what it will do with the statue, although officials said they will confer with students and members of Charlottesville’s Native American community to decide its fate.
City Council member Michael Payne said the council voted to develop a plan to move the Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea statue in fall 2019. But the council sped up matters — and called the emergency vote Saturday — after the contracting company that removed the Jackson and Lee statues suddenly offered to take down the monument at no additional cost, Payne said.
“The council’s vote had always been to move it, it was just a matter of all the technicalities that need to be in place to happen,” he said.
The removal of the Rogers Clark statue began midmorning Sunday. About 10:30 a.m., several dozen people watched from across the street — their vision obscured by six-foot-tall fences wrapped in opaque black tarp — as five workers in neon vests dismantled it. The workers placed harnesses around the monument, then used a hammer and wedge to loosen it from its podium.
By about noon, the sculpture was gone. In the muggy 88-degree heat, the workers chipped away at a gray stone pedestal to reveal a squat brick structure. Two cranes hoisted pieces of the stone into the air and deposited them in neat stacks off to one side.
A steady stream of cars drove past on Main Street West, a typically busy thoroughfare that is home to bars and restaurants.
A few blocks down, incoming U-Va. freshman Katelyn Woolfrey, 18, said she was glad the statue will be gone when she comes to campus this fall. Woolfrey was visiting for the weekend from her home in Orange County, Va.
“We already know about the history,” she said. “I don’t think we need a big statue celebrating it.”
Nearby, Akhil Rekulapelli, 21 and a rising fourth-year undergrad at U-Va., said he had only learned “bits and pieces” about Rogers Clark and his role in American history.
Rogers Clark, born in 1752 in Virginia’s Albemarle County, was older brother to William Clark. During the Revolutionary War, he led a militia that battled the British and their Native American allies in Kentucky and Ohio. Thomas Jefferson named Rogers Clark a brigadier general in 1781. After the war, he fought Native American tribes on the Western frontier to gain land for White settlers.
Most of what Rekulapelli knew about Rogers Clark came from a plaque beside the sculpture, he said — and that unforgettable inscription calling him a “conqueror.”
Rekulapelli was glad to see the statue go, he said, especially given its prominent position on a strip of street connecting U-Va.’s campus to downtown Charlottesville.
“If any group feels oppressed or doesn’t feel welcome” because of a statue, Rekulapelli said, that statue should be taken down. “Universities are kind of these cathedrals of knowledge, and it’s so important that we don’t push people away.”
In arguing for the statues’ removal, opponents also have pointed to the timing of the monuments’ erections a century ago. They argue the statues were meant to reinforce racist beliefs and policies then being espoused by Charlottesville’s politicians and prominent citizens.
All four statues — those of Lee; Jackson; Rogers Clark; and Lewis, Clark and Sacagawea — were commissioned by Paul Goodloe McIntire, a stockbroker whose name still adorns streets and buildings throughout the city.
At that time, Virginia state legislators were working to pass racial purity laws that cemented segregation, in part by banning mixed-race marriages. And Charlottesville’s Ku Klux Klan membership was spiking, reaching its highest level in 1924, the year McIntire commissioned the Lee statue, according to C-VILLE Weekly.
Then-Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy said in 2016 that some city residents believe the Lee statue was installed as a “psychological tool to show dominance of the majority over the minority.”
City Council member Lloyd Snook said in an interview Saturday that he regrets that the rapid-fire removals this weekend are causing some to link Lewis and Clark with Lee and Jackson. Unlike the latter two, Lewis and Clark should not be remembered for committing treason against the United States, he noted.
“It’s unfortunate for history that they will end up getting lumped together,” Snook said. “But it was fortunate for the city that we were able to get it done without additional cost.”