The process to remove the statue of George Rogers Clark on the University of Virginia’s campus began Sunday.
The removal is expected to take several days and will be carried out by the same contractor who removed several controversial Charlottesville statues on Saturday — including the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that sparked the deadly Unite the Right rally in 2017.
The statue’s depiction of Native Americans led to calls for its removal.
The university said its Racial Equity Task Force, which was developed following the killing of George Floyd, recommended the statue’s removal. The school’s Board of Visitors approved the recommendation last September.
“This moment offers us a unique opportunity to take actions that will leave a lasting and positive impact on the university that we all love,” UVA President Jim Ryan said during a Board of Visitors meeting back in September.
He described the recommendations as “actions that will make this place more clearly and obviously welcome and open to all.”
Sterling Howell, a coordinator with the Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society, said every new generation has the opportunity to re-examine the past and reprioritize what aspects of it is told and what is focused on and researched.
“Removing a piece of public art doesn’t change anything about history,” Howell said. “It’s a piece of public art and our public spaces belong to the present. It’s up to the people in the present to decide, it doesn’t change history at all. What it does change is what aspects of our history we prioritize. For 100 years we had monuments to Confederate generals in the middle of the city, dominating public spaces. Now, that’s no longer the case.”
Howell said historians, and others, are constantly trying to make the past relevant to the present and understand current circumstances, in terms of where we came from, and how we got here.
He said during the Civil War era, for example, the majority of Albemarle County were enslaved African Americans.
“That was your average Albemarle County person, and their story has never been told,” Howell said.
Howell said he’s optimistic about the future and the public’s desire to learn more about history.
The statue will go into storage while the university works with a committee to find a new location for it.
WTOP’s Dick Uliano and Glynis Kazanjian contributed to this story.