The Charlottesville City Council convened on Wednesday to continue discussing plans for relocating the Lewis & Clark and Sacagawea statue.
Activists take issue with Sacagawea’s posture: she crouches behind Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, a positioning some say is demeaning for depicting the appearance of subservience.
Statues of Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson are also subject to removal, if the courts rule in favor of Governor Ralph Northam and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney. Both statues are under an injunction currently. Charlottesville City Council Spokesman/Director of Communications Brian Wheeler explained that because of this, the Lewis & Clark and Sacagawea statue is next on the city’s agenda.
“That statue has been debated in this community for many years,” he said. “The question is, is Sacagawea portrayed in a respectful fashion? Our consensus in the council is [she’s] not.”
Wheeler explained that Sacagawea’s descendants, as well as members of the Shoshone and Monacan tribes, attended a council meeting last November to discuss the statue. According to him, they wouldn’t leave the meeting without a decision. The descendants and tribal members pushed the council to resolve to relocate the statue, and they directed staff to make a plan.
Due to the pandemic and recent elections, Wheeler said that progress on relocation of the statue was paused earlier this year. The latest meeting served as a way for city planners to communicate financing and other details with the council.
“In this [past] meeting, planners just needed to reaffirm that the city council was going to resolve this issue,” Wheeler added. “We believe it can be relocated somewhere else, to give it better context.”
Wheeler hinted that the statue may find a new home with the Lewis & Clark Exploratory Center. Another statue – perhaps of a historical female figure – may occupy the vacated spot in the future.
C. Thomas Chapman, Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society executive director, said what the monument represents is up to the community.
“Our research and understanding of history is constantly changing based on the community’s perspective. Statues and monuments are subject to change as we review history. History doesn’t change, but our understanding [of it] does.”
The Albemarle Charlottesville Historical Society also published a statement in September claiming that systemic racism persists in our country.
“We believe it is important for people to grapple with the history of White supremacy in our country and to understand its implications and the pain caused for our diverse citizenry. We believe it is important to recognize the ways that mischaracterizations of our history, as represented through such monuments, continues to divide us,” the organization said.
The society acknowledged that removing statues wouldn’t change history, but encouraged everyone to “focus on the ways that past wrongs impact current circumstances.”
Republican Party of Virginia (RPV) Communication Consultant John March said the measure is a waste of taxpayer money and another appeasement tactic by Stoney and Northam.
“Honestly, who’s next? George Washington? It’s a huge loss. They’re trying to get rid of history – they’re trying to ‘fix’ history in our schools,” March said. “They’re never satisfied. I think that UVA’s going to come after Jefferson.”
The city council is currently seeking proposals on the project.
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Corinne Murdock is a reporter at The Virginia Star and the Star News Network. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to [email protected].
“Lewis & Clark Monument Charlottesville” by Ken Lund. CC BY-SA 2.0.