Reb on the run: Albemarle County votes to remove courthouse statue; Lee still stands

Johnny Reb's days outside the Albemarle County Courthouse are numbered. Staff photo. Johnny Reb’s days outside the Albemarle County Courthouse are numbered. Staff photo.

Last Thursday, six days before the third anniversary of the Unite the Right rally, the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors voted 6-0 to remove the statue of a Confederate soldier, known as “Johnny Reb,” which stands outside the county courthouse.

The Board of Supervisors vote comes after the newly Democratic Virginia legislature narrowly passed laws allowing localities to move or remove war memorials. The Johnny Reb statue was protected by the war memorials restriction, even though it was installed during Reconstruction in 1909.

So far, Albemarle County has wasted no time. The new law went into effect on July 1, and the county held its vote shortly after the conclusion of a mandatory 30-day public comment period. Now, post-vote, the statue county is required to offer the statue to museums or historical societies for another 30 days before initiating the removal. The county will send the cranes in for Johnny Reb on September 6, at the earliest.

A number of residents spoke on behalf of the removal during the board’s meeting. The Charlottesville-Albemarle BAR Association threw its support behind the monument’s removal, as did Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jim Hingeley.

In their comments about the monument, multiple supervisors cited the location—outside the courthouse—as a particularly harmful feature of the statue.

The statue, “symbolizing an effort to maintain a plantation society, slavery, and white supremacy, and the tools of a war fought against the United States, should not be collocated with our court facility,” said Board of Supervisors member Diantha McKeel.

In a virtual webinar last week, UVA religious studies professor and local public historian Jalane Schmidt spoke about the significance of the statue’s placement outside the courthouse.

“It begs the question of why we would have an image of the forces that tried to overthrow the United States Constitution on the lawn of the courthouse? Inside the courts, we’re supposed to all be treated equally under the rule of law of the U.S Constitution,” Schmidt said. “The Articles of Secession were specifically about rescinding the U.S. Constitution.”

Schmidt also pointed out that the statue does not possess any value as a piece of art, but rather is one of many bronze replicas scattered across the country.

Down the road from Johnny Reb, the Robert E. Lee statue at the heart of the Unite the Right rally still sits atop its pedestal in Market Street Park. The Unite the Right anniversary will not pass unacknowledged in that space, however, as a coalition of activist groups plans to gather in the park on August 12.

“We are done ceding this space to others,” a statement from the activists reads. “For a total of six hours, community members will be sharing food, making art, listening to the histories of resistance against fascism in Charlottesville, dancing, holding space with each other, listening to each other’s grief and rage.”

Charlottesville’s City Council must wait for the Supreme Court of Virginia to remove a remaining injunction left over from the original court case before it can begin the 60-day removal process for the Lee monument.

 

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Mitchell carr
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Mitchell carr

Without jumping into the fray of whether statues should stay or go I would like to point out that many of the statues were put in place as a show to the northern elite that their oppression of the southern whites after the war did not break them spiritually, nor succeed in bringing them into submission. The race issue was minor at best. It would do many people good to read about the corruption and oppression wrought by the north during reconstruction which may explain (not excuse) the southern white retaliation on blacks. Teaching children that all people with white… Read more »

Harvey Liszt
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Harvey Liszt

Reconstruction ended in 1876

Mitchell carr
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Mitchell carr

Reconstruction did officially “end” in 1876 but similar to the civil rights of blacks being given in 1964, it takes time to make things happen and undue the damage. The south likewise had to deal with the damage caused by the “carpetbaggers” and federal punishment policies. The south had their money cancelled, but not their debts. It took them decades to rebuild from the literal ashes. That resilience is what many were feeling when they proposed and created these statues. They were more a thumb in the eye of the northern states than any deliberate attack on the black race.… Read more »