CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — Advocates in Charlottesville, Virginia are working to remove the city's Confederate statues before the four-year anniversary of the deadly rally later this summer. This comes after the City Council unanimously voted to remove the statues.
Zyahna Bryant, a young activist and change maker, has been trying to make this happen for the last five years. She authored the original petition to take down the Robert E. Lee Statue in 2016.
“These statues are a part of a physical landscape that reinforces some of these underlying notions of slavery, bondage and what it means to be deserving of humanity," Bryant said. “When I see those statues, it reminds me of an incomplete history.”
Kristin Szakos, a former City Council member says this time, the vote is even more important.
“We’ve been here before. When I was on council, we also voted to remove the statues. Having been here before, I’ll celebrate when the statues are down," Szakos said. “In Charlottesville, at this moment, it’s particularly important because we have had violence around these statues. We’ve had hundreds of white supremacists and Nazis come into town to defend those statues.”
This year, both a Virginia Supreme Court ruling and a law passed in the legislature cleared the way for the city of Charlottesville to remove the Confederate statues.
“Folks in Charlottesville worked really hard with folks from all over the commonwealth to change that law," Szakos said.
Bryant is one of those people.
“The August 11th and 12th rallies happened and I recognize that a lot of people were trying to protect this image of Charlottesville that did not exist," Bryant said. “People are starting to see why they need to come down and it’s sad, in my opinion, that it took a rally where someone lost their life for people to come to that realization.”
Szakos says she first brought the statues up in council in 2012 and says even then, it was long overdue.
“It’s actually been 100 years because there were people when the Jackson statue first went up in 1921 who said it shouldn’t be there," Szakos said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center started tracking how many symbols of the Confederacy were located in public spaces following the Charleston shooting in 2015. That’s when a white man killed nine Black people during a church bible study. After the Charlottesville rally, they started gathering input from the community.
“We have over 2,000 now, so we started at 1,500 but community member have uncovered even more," said Lecia Brooks, the SPLC Chief of Staff.
Brooks says in 2020, 94 of the 168 symbols that were removed were confederate monuments; 71 were in Virginia, 24 in North Carolina, and 12 each in Texas and Alabama.
“So, as we make great strides in removing some of these symbols from public space, we’re finding that there are more and more," Brooks said.
But Lecia does recognize the change seen in states rooted in the confederacy.
“Virginia has done, I mean, a complete 360 post the unite the right rally," Brooks said.
Bryant doesn’t want this momentum to stop at the statues.
“I don’t think that it should stop once the statues are down because again the statues are only the tip of the iceberg," Bryant said. “We also have the opportunity to rewrite the textbooks. We have the opportunity to create new resources for people to learn from.”
From housing to healthcare to education and more, she says there is so much to tackle.
“I feel very confident that this is the turn to a new Charlottesville and to a new central Virginia and to a new country overall, but I think that there will be no real progress and no real healing reconciliation until there is the redistribution of resources an until there is true equity," Bryant said.