When a black helicopter hovered above the Loudoun County courthouse in Leesburg early Tuesday afternoon, many residents grew curious.

Roy and Brenda Clark, who had been paying close attention to the county’s recent decision to remove the Confederate statue that stood in front of the building, rushed to the courthouse just blocks from their house to see what was going on.

The county hadn’t yet announced when the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group that owns the 112-year-old statue, would remove it. The Clarks thought the helicopter might be signaling that Tuesday was the day.

The couple arrived to find an empty pedestal where the statue once stood, encircled by eight orange cones.

“We knew it was going to be a big deal,” Roy Clark, 69, said of why he and his wife, who are white, came to see the statue, which depicted a Confederate soldier holding a musket. “Every generation has its cross to bear.”

While the county voted in early July to remove the “Silent Sentinel” and return it to the United Daughters of the Confederacy after the group asked for the statue back, no date had been set — although the county had announced that the group needed to remove it by Sept. 7.

Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who has worked to remove the statue for nearly 20 years, was not immediately available for comment Tuesday. Randall, the first African American chair of the Loudoun board, said after the vote that removing the statue was “correcting history” and that the “statue should never have been put up.”

The removal, which contractors conducted with a crane, took many Loudoun residents and civil rights leaders by surprise, including Michelle Thomas, president of the Loudoun chapter of the NAACP, who learned of the removal Tuesday morning.

“This statue that has been an example of years of oppression and terrorism to African Americans came down without a single fight. This is a huge win for the county and for the nation,” she said.

Ron Story, who saw the rubble of the statue after he emerged from the courthouse Tuesday afternoon, felt conflicted.

“History is history. The past shouldn’t be forgotten,” said Story, who is black, adding that he’s in favor of adding more statues that contextualize the history of the county. “But if it’s a random soldier, take it down.”

The statue is one of a growing number of Confederate monuments removed by local governments or toppled by protesters — including in Richmond and Alexandria — amid renewed calls for racial justice sparked by the killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.

Many residents wondered what, if anything, should go in place of the “Silent Sentinel.”

Thomas, who sits on the committee the county has convened on the matter, said the statue will be replaced with a monument on the history of slavery, including a “freedom path” and stories of community members who suffered.

Sam Carlson, who lives a block from the courthouse, said it’s important just that the Confederate statue is gone.

Carlson, who is white and has lived in Leesburg for a decade, said he’s been hoping it would be removed for years. On Tuesday, he brought his daughter and son to see the empty pedestal.

“Given the history of the statue to intimidate African Americans, and then having to walk by it every day, it was long time coming for it to come down,” Carlson said. “It’s nice to have this eyesore gone.”