published : 2023-10-28

Confederate General Robert E. Lee Statue Melted in Secret Ceremony and Repurposed for Inclusive Public Art

Controversial Removal Sparks Transformation of Historical Figures' Statues

A photo of the controversial Confederate General Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, taken with a Nikon D850 camera.

The statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee that once stood in Charlottesville, Virginia, was secretly melted down at a ceremonial event.

After both cultural and legal battles, the statue of Lee that sparked the infamous Charlottesville 'Unite the Right' rally was reportedly melted in a secretive ceremony in order to ensure the safety of those involved.

The Washington Post reported that the statue met its end 'in a 2,250-degree furnace' when it was 'secretly melted down' to become a new piece of public art.

Footage of Lee’s likeness being melted went viral across social media.

The Washington Post reported that 'Swords Into Plowshares,' a project led by University of Virginia religious studies professor Jalane Schmidt and Charlottesville’s Black history museum executive director Andrea Douglas, 'will turn bronze ingots made from molten Lee into a new piece of public artwork to be displayed in Charlottesville. They made arrangements for Lee to be melted down while they started collecting ideas from city residents for that new sculpture.'

The Post went on to say that due to 'past threats' and 'worries about legal action' the project went to great lengths to keep itself secret until now.

An aerial shot of the 'Swords Into Plowshares' project team collecting ideas from city residents for the new public art sculpture, captured with a Canon EOS R5 camera.

The article made note that Schmidt, 'who directs the Memory Project at U-Va.’s Karsh Institute of Democracy, said she felt like she was preparing for an execution of sorts,' and quoted her comparing the destruction of the monument to putting down a rabid dog that has been harming people.

'Still, that dark feeling was better than carting Charlottesville’s “White supremacist toxic waste” away to some other community,' the Post wrote.

'It’s a better sculpture right now than it’s ever been,' one of the metal-casters said. 'We’re taking away what it meant for some people and transforming it.'

United Methodist minister Rev. Isaac Collins delivered a sermon at the ceremony of the statue being destroyed and has previously declared that it is a sin to have monuments celebrating figures from the Confederacy.

The Washington Post did not name the owner of the foundry, but suggested, 'To him, melting the statue down meant the trauma will be gone when Black people pass squares where Confederate statues once stood.'

NPR also covered the event and credited Swords Into Plowshares for its efforts to 'create a more inclusive public art installation.'

A close-up photo of the melted bronze ingots made from the statue of Lee, ready to be transformed into a new piece of inclusive public art, taken with a Sony Alpha A7 III camera.

'We want to transform something that has been toxic in the Charlottesville community,' Schmidt said. 'We want to transform it into a piece of art that the community can be proud of, and gather around and not feel excluded or intimidated.'

'People are willing to die for symbols,' she added further. 'And as we saw in Charlottesville, they're willing to kill for them, too.'

NPR described the dismembering of the statue’s face, 'in the pattern of a death mask,' noting 'the symbolism is poignant for Andrea Douglas.'

'The act of myth-making that has occurred around Robert E. Lee, removing his face is emblematic of the kind of removal of that kind of myth,' Douglas noted.

The 'Unite the Right' rally took place in Charlottesville in August 2017 and participants included far-right White supremacist sympathizers upset over the proposed removal of Lee's statue, as well as many counter-protesters.

On Aug. 12, James Fields Jr. deliberately rammed his car into a group of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.