The city of Charlottesville, Va. can remove statues of Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson, according to a Thursday ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court.
The state’s top court ruled in favor of the Charlottesville city council’s vote to remove both statues, subsequently overturning a Circuit Court decision in favor of a group of residents who sued to prevent the statues’ removal, The Associated Press reported.
State Supreme Court Justice Bernard Goodwyn said Thursday’s decision recognized that both statues were built before a law regulating the “disturbance of or interference with” war memorials or monuments was passed.
“In other words, (the law) did not provide the authority for the City to erect the Statues, and it does not prohibit the City from disturbing or interfering with them,” Goodwyn wrote.
The statue of Lee was erected in 1924 and the Jackson statue was constructed in 1921.
The move to take down the Confederate generals’ statues stemmed from 2017 rally in the city that sought to defend the statue of Lee. The group clashed with counter-protesters, leading to the death of one woman.
Virginia has been a center for tensions related to Confederate statues and monuments in recent years. In December, the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) took down a statue of “Stonewall” Jackson that stood in front of the barracks.
VMI said in a statement that the school had decided to remove the statue of the general, who also taught at the military institute, and would be re-erected at the Virginia Museum of the Civil War at the New Market Battlefield State Historic Park.
“It is an understatement to say the relocation of the statue has evoked strong opinions on both sides of the issue. The history of VMI over the past 181 years is well documented. Stonewall Jackson’s ties to Lexington and the Institute as an instructor are part of that history,” said the top military school’s interim superintendent, retired Army Maj. Gen. Cedric T. Wins, following VMI’s decision to remove Jackson’s statue. “As a general during the American Civil War who prosecuted many successful engagements in the Shenandoah Valley, his story will continue to be told at this new location.”
Wins continued, “VMI does not define itself by this statue and that is why this move is appropriate. We are defined by our unique system of education and the quality and character of the graduates the Institute produces. Our graduates embody the values of honor, respect, civility, self-discipline, and professionalism. This is how we will continue to be defined.”