Students and other University of Virginia community members shrouded a statue of Thomas Jefferson in black Tuesday night during a rally criticizing the university’s response to recent white nationalist demonstrations that unfolded on and near the campus.
About 100 people gathered for the protest Tuesday night, according to the Daily Progress. They covered the statue of the university’s founder, and signs reading “racist” and “rapist” were placed on it.
Speakers at the rally pressed the university to comply with demands made by the Black Student Alliance last month that included removing Confederate plaques from the university’s rotunda and banning white supremacist groups from campus, the Daily Progress reported.
The Black Student Alliance said in an email that it did not coordinate Tuesday night’s protest and that it was carried out by “unaffiliated student activists.”
The protest occurred weeks after the Charlottesville City Council voted to cover the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in black. That decision followed a violent weekend of demonstrations in the city that left one woman dead and many hurt.
The university’s president, Teresa A. Sullivan, wrote in an email to the university community that she opposed protesters’ decision to cover the statue in a black shroud and said it was removed.
“I strongly disagree with the protestors’ decision to cover the Jefferson statue. I also recognize the rights of those present at the protest to express their emotions and opinions regarding the recent horrific events that occurred on our Grounds and in Charlottesville,” Sullivan wrote. “Our community continues to heal, and we must remain respectful of one another.”
She went on to acknowledge Jefferson’s vexing history, noting that the former president made “many contributions to the progress of the early American Republic.”
“In apparent contradiction to his persuasive arguments for liberty and human rights, however, he was also a slave owner,” she said. “The University has acknowledged its controversial history and we continue to learn from it through open dialogue and civil discourse.”
John Whitbeck, chairman of the Republican Party of Virginia, issued a statement Wednesday morning criticizing the protest, and called on police and university administrators to “move swiftly to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
“The vandalism of the Thomas Jefferson statue at the University of Virginia is the next step in the extreme left’s movement to erase our history,” he said. “The defacing of our historical monuments is not free speech, it is a criminal offense, plain and simple.”