Robert E. Lee statue that prompted deadly protest in Virginia has been melted down

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee that was a focal point of a deadly white nationalist protest in 2017 has been melted down and will be repurposed into new works of art.

The Jefferson School African American Heritage Center, a Charlottesville-based Black history museum, said Thursday that the statue had been destroyed.

The Charlottesville City Council voted in 2021 to donate the statue to the heritage center, after it proposed a Swords into Plowshares project that would melt the statue and repurpose it into “public art that expresses the City’s values of inclusivity and racial justice,” according to the proposal submitted to the city.

The statue was taken down in 2021 after years of debate and delay.

Protests over the plan to remove the statue morphed into the violent “Unite the Right” rally in 2017. It was during that rally that James Alex Fields Jr., an avowed Hitler admirer, intentionally drove his car into a crowd of counterprotesters, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer and injuring 19 others. Fields is serving a life sentence.

Two groups that had sought to preserve the statue sued last year to try to block the city from donating it to the heritage center, but a judge tossed out their case.

At a news conference Thursday, heritage center officials said they now plan to solicit proposals on how to repurpose the statue. The center hopes to pick an artist next year and is conducting a $4 million fundraising campaign.

For now, the bronze from the statue has been molded into ingots stamped with the words “SWORDS INTO PLOWSHARES,” some of which were on display at the news conference.

“Our efforts have been not to remove history but bear witness to the truths about our racist pasts and our aspirations for a more equitable future,” said Andrea Douglas, director of the heritage center.