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March 2016 – African American Vice Mayor Wes Bellamy calls for the removal of the statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee from Lee Park and Stonewall Jackson from Jackson Park, “citing members of the community who feel it is culturally offensive and a symbol of white supremacy,” “The Daily Progress” of Charlottesville reports.
May 2, 2016 – In response to “citizen questions that have been raised regarding race, memorials and public spaces in Charlottesville,” the City Council unanimously creates “an ad hoc blue ribbon commission on race, memorials and public spaces and tasks the commission with the mission to provide Council with options for telling the full story of Charlottesville’s history of race and for changing the City’s narrative through our public spaces,” so reads the Council’s resolution. The nine-member panel is charged with issuing a recommendations by Nov. 30, which include “adding context” to the monuments.
Nov. 1, 2016 – The special panel votes 6-3 to “retain the statues on the condition that their meaning is transformed and their history is retold,” as reported in the University of Virginia student paper “Cavalier Daily” The commission recommended keeping statues of both Lee and Jackson in Lee Park and Jackson Park, respectively, if historic context and interpretation can be added to the monuments. Activists wearing T-shirts #CHANGETHENAME #MOVETHESTATUE” pressure commission members to reconsider their vote.
Nov. 28, 2016 — According to the Richmond Times Dispatch the commission votes in favor of moving the Lee statue to McIntire Park and keeping the Jackson statue in place.
Dec. 19, 2016 — The commission formally presents its report to the City Council, which supports $500,000 from the capital budget towards the monument initiative.
January 2017 – Prior to President Trump’s inaugural, Mayor Mike Signer is quoted saying he hopes Charlottesville will become the “national capital of the Resistance” , an obvious reference to the movement founded after Hillary Clinton lost the election. Note: the Mayor is NOT elected directly by the people, but is a Councilor elected by his 4 other colleagues, primarily to run the meetings.
Jan. 17, 2017 – The Council deadlocks 2-2 on a motion to Signer and Councilor Kathy Galvin opposed the measure, citing in part “public outrage that moving the statues could create.” Councilor Bob Fenwick abstains, prompting several shouts of “shame” and “coward.” Attorneys for the city have noted that legal challenges could come if a decision to move the statues, which the state considers to be war memorials, were made.”
Feb. 6, 2017 – Although the majority of speakers during the meeting’s preliminary public comment period voiced displeasure with the proposal to move the Lee statue, the Council, with Fenwick the tie-breaker, votes 3-2 to move it. The motion requires city management staff to provide within the next 60 days recommendations for how the statue can be moved. Litigation is being threatened by citizens opposed to moving the monuments
Feb. 21, 2017—Republican gubernatorial hopeful Corey Stewart jumps into the fray, speaking to a rally of Confederate monument supporters outside the Council chambers, urging the Council to keep the monuments. Joining him is Charlottesville resident and blogger Jason Kessler, and Isaac Smith, a suspected “white nationalist. Kessler would become the chief organizer of the deadly Unite the Right rally on Aug. 12 Stewart joins Kessler in a recall petition to remove Bellamy after finding “dozens of offensive tweets written by Bellamy years ago.” Bellamy issues an apology and is suspended from his job as a high school teacher.
March 2017 — Several plaintiffs, including the Virginia division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV), sue Charlottesville and seek a restraining order. That case is now before a city circuit court judge .
March 4, 2017 — Corey Stewart holds a pro-Confederate flag/heritage campaign rally in Richmond, attended by several white supremacist leaders, including Derrick Smith of the “Traditional Workers Party” and Ron Doggett, who has been associated with KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.
April 20, 2017 – Charlottesville Council votes to “sell the Lee statue” and unanimously agrees to rename Lee and Jackson parks, but get input from the public over the “next few weeks” on what to name the grounds. Before the council vote, City Attorney Craig Brown reminds Council of the legal hurdle that needs to be navigated before the statue can be sold and relocated, and notes the pending SCV court challenge In an ominous statement, Councilor Kathy Galvin “warned of potential violence that could result if the political confrontations continue, adding there is “hate” coming from “both sides.”
May 2, 2017 — A Charlottesville judge issues a six-month injunction on removing the Lee monument setting trial for the fall. But the judge said renaming the park can be done by council legally
May 10, 2017 — Jason Kessler is sentenced on a misdemeanor charge for slugging a Charlottesville man on the downtown mall in January after confrontation. He is photographed with Corey Stewart and Stewart’s wife Please read Steve Albertson’s excellent TBE article on this issue
May 13, 2017 – Alt.right white nationalist Richard Spencer leads a torch-lit rally around the Lee statue. Counter protesters gather peacefully the next evening in Lee Park.
May 24, 2017 – A left-leaning group, “Solidarity Charlottesville,” forms to help organize a “resistance.” It says in its action alert “choosing not to act is an action in itself, and doing nothing is violence. Figure out your chosen methods of resistance…” The group quotes a poem by fugitive Joanne Chesimard (Assata Shakur) and is later noted to be associated with the “Antifa.”
May 30, 2017 — Jason Kessler submits an application on May 30 to hold a “Free speech rally in support of the Lee Monument” in August. The application, costing just $25, is eventually approved.
June 4, 2017 – Council votes to rename Lee Park as “Emancipation Park” and Jackson Park as “Justice Park” following a raucous meeting, where Kessler was interrupted by liberal activists, several of whom were ejected from the Council chambers
July 8, 2017 — About 50 North Carolina KKK members in hoods, but showing their faces, rally in Charlottesville to protest the proposed Lee statue removal. Some 1,000 show up to counter protest, and 23 are arrested. Police deploy tear gas to break up counterdemonstrators.
July 17, 2017 – More than 200 local activists jam the Council chambers urging the body to revoke the permit for the Aug. 12 “Unite the Right” rally in Lee/Emancipation, fearing violence. The permit is not pulled and the rally is allowed to go forward
Aug. 11, 2017 – Neo-Nazis, alt-right groups hold “tiki torch” rally in Lee/Emancipation Park shouting anti-Semitic and racist slogans.
Aug. 12, 2017 — Bloody Saturday. Extremists battle each other in the streets as police watch; some say police were asked by the Mayor to “stand down.” One protester is run over by one of the alt right demonstrators and dies; 2 state police members die when their helicopter, on patrol in the area due to the rally, crashes. Nineteen are injured.
The rest is history.
Finger pointing about the police and if they were told to “stand down.” Questions about whether Gov. McAuliffe and the State Police handled this properly. The Lee statue now “shrouded.” Mayor Signer, who obviously loved the limelight since the national media didn’t know he was a “weak mayor” without real powers, is now shackled by the Council in terms of speaking for the town and dealing with departments of government, notably, the police. The circuit court is now deciding if the city can do anything to remove the monuments. President Trump still being accused of being a racist due to his “all sides” remarks.
Prepared by Ken Reid