The Charlottesville City Council is expected to vote to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee and rename the park after a vote last month ended in a tie.
Councilman Bob Fenwick, who abstained from voting on the measure during a Jan. 17 meeting, told The Caviler Daily he now plans to vote to remove the statue and rename Lee Park at the Virginia council’s meeting today.
Fenwick said he initially abstained from voting because he was unsure about the consequences for the move, slated to cost $300,000, and wanted time to consider input from a Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces.
“I was very concerned a vote to remove (on Jan. 17) would take the energy out of a better city budget for citizens and neighborhoods which would mean community centers, the Jefferson School Heritage Center, diversion and mentoring programs (and) funding for 501c3 social programs like Legal Aid, Ready Kids, etc.,” Fenwick wrote in an email to The Daily.
According to the news site:
Though Fenwick is going to vote for the statue’s removal, he stressed the statue — which he said he views as a symbol of racism — will be relocated and preserved.
His decision was met with controversy from individuals and advocacy groups on both sides of the issue. While Showing up For Racial Justice applauded his efforts, organizations such as the Virginia Flaggers, which argues for the preservation of Confederate symbols, condemned the impending action.
Lifetime Charlottesvillian Lewis Martin told the local NPR station he believes the Lee statue, which depicts him mounted on a horse, sets a positive example for locals because Lee called for reconciliation after the Civil War.
“He said, ‘Go home and be good citizens,’” Martin said.
Fenwick and others, however, remain fixated on eliminating any traces of history that involve racism or slavery, and believe the statue is offensive to blacks in the community.
Lee “was a highly educated man, a top graduate and eventual superintendent of West Point,” Fenwick pointed out at the January Council meeting. “To say that Robert E. Lee didn’t believe his efforts as commanding general of the army of the Confederate states had as their primary aim the preservation of a way of life in which enslaved humans were the primary economic driver is in itself delusional.”
Richmond.com points out the pending removal of statue doesn’t follow recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission, which called for the Lee statue and another of Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson to be recontextualized in their current location, or at another park.
Pam Starsia, organizer for Showing Up for Racial Justice, lauded Fenwick’s decision to side with the other two council members who voted to remove the Lee statue in January.
“While we wish they city could have reached this decision sooner, and without the pain caused to so many at the last City Council meeting, we applaud Mr. Fenwick for his decision, and we are deeply appreciative of his action …,” a statement read.
Virginia Flaggers, meanwhile, posted a recent blog that condemned the action and predicted harsh consequences for council members who opted to remove the historical statue.
“These people have no shame,” the post read, according to Richmond.com.
“(Councilors Wes) Bellamy and (Kristin) Szakos have nothing to lose,” it continued. “Their careers are effectively over and they can pursue their agenda of hate, and vote to toss away taxpayer money and waste city resources without fear of any kind of accountability.”
“We can only assume that with this announcement, Fenwick has decided his political career is over, as well.”
The city council voted 3-2 on Monday to remove the statue and rename the park.
“Councilor Wes Bellamy said community members feel the statue is culturally offensive and a symbol of white supremacy. Councilor Bob Fenwick provided the swing vote after both praising Lee and saying his record of fighting to preserve slavery is undeniable,” Fox 5 reports.