A judge in Charlottesville ruled Tuesday that local officials must take down the black shrouds covering two Confederate monuments while a lawsuit continues over the city’s plan to permanently remove the controversial statues.
The towering bronze sculptures of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, each in a public park, were draped in black by the city after an Aug. 12 rally by hundreds of white supremacists erupted in violence. The demonstration drew throngs of counterprotesters, and one of them, Heather Heyer, 32, was killed in the mayhem.
In a victory for monument supporters, Judge Richard E. Moore of Charlottesville Circuit Court rejected the city’s argument that the statues should remain shrouded as a symbol of mourning until the first anniversary of Heyer’s death.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are fighting the city’s plan to get rid of the decades-old statues, said at a hearing this month that a suitable period of mourning for Heyer has long passed. They alleged that the city was keeping the shrouds in place simply to hide the monuments from public view in violation of an earlier court order.
Last year, Charlottesville joined other communities across the South in deciding to remove or alter conspicuous public memorials to the Confederacy, which critics say are emblems of racism. After the City Council voted to get rid of the Lee statue, white supremacists made the monument the focal point of their Aug. 12 rally.
Amid the violent clashes with counterprotesters, an Ohio man who had long espoused pro-Nazi views allegedly rammed his car into another vehicle intentionally on a crowded street, killing Heyer and injuring 35 others. The suspect, charged with second-degree murder and other crimes, remains jailed in Charlottesville.
Stunned by the violence, the City Council soon afterward voted to also tear down the Jackson statue. But Moore issued an injunction last year barring the city from removing or altering the monuments while the litigation seeking to preserve them is pending. The lawsuit, filed by a group of Confederate heritage enthusiasts, appears to be headed for a trial in Moore’s courtroom this year.
The judge initially prohibited the city from disturbing the statues during the lawsuit, but he allowed the shrouds to be put up after Heyer’s death. Although the plaintiffs did not immediately object, they eventually grew tired of waiting for the tarps to come down.
At issue in the lawsuit is a 1904 Virginia law that generally bars officials from removing or altering public war memorials. The plaintiffs contend the law applies to the Lee and Jackson monuments. The city says it does not.