All Episodes

February 22, 2024 57 mins

Molly Conger sits down with Dr. Jalane Schmidt of the swords into plowshares project to talk about the past, present, and future of the infamous statue that inspired a nazi rally

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

Mark as Played
Transcript

Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:01):
Cool Zone Media.

Speaker 2 (00:05):
Welcome back to It Could Happen Here, your favorite podcast
for a daily dose of dystopia. I am once again
you're a guest host Molly Conger. Today, I'm talking to
a good friend of mine in one of the brilliant
minds behind the melting of Charlottesville's Roberty Lee statue, Doctor
Julaane Schmidt, is going to tell us a little bit
about the history of the statue, from its planning and
placement to its current state, melted into ingots in an

(00:28):
undisclosed location. I'm joined today by doctor Julaane Schmidt, a
professor of Religious Studies at the University of Virginia, the
director of the Memory Project at the University of Virginia's
Karsh Institute of Democracy, and a steering committee member at
the Swords into Plowshare's Project. As both a scholar and
an activist, doctor Schmidt has been a leading voice in
the Charlottesville community for racial justice and against the Confederate

(00:49):
monuments that once stood here. The Swords into Plowsher's Project
announced back in October that they had successfully dismantled and
melted down the bronze statue of Roberty Lee that once
loomed over the Market Street Park in downtown Charlottesville. Thank
you so much for joining me today to talk about
the past, present, and future of that hunk of bronze.

Speaker 3 (01:07):
Thanks for having me, Mollie. It's great to great to
talk with you about this.

Speaker 2 (01:11):
I don't think i've called you Professor Schmidt since two
thousand and eight when I took one of your classes.

Speaker 3 (01:15):
It's been a while. It's been a while. Yeah, yeah,
Now we just call each other comrades, you know, because
we're out there on the streets and in city council
and you know, doing the things.

Speaker 2 (01:27):
So before we get to the final fate of that
melted bronze, I want to ground this in the history
of that particular object. Right, This isn't just any Confederate monument.
This is the statue that made Charlottesville household name, the
statue that brought unite the right here, the statue that
killed someone. It's a statue that had history in that
park for a century before it came down and before
it was removed. You led some really incredible walking tours

(01:49):
of the downtown parks to try to tell the story
of the way those statues existed in those spaces for generations,
why they were there, what they meant, what impact they
had on the landscape and the people in the community.
I think I went on about a dozen of those
walking tours, and I learned something new every single time.
So can you talk a little bit about the political
atmosphere in nineteen twenty four when that statue first went up.

Speaker 3 (02:10):
Yeah, well it should, you know, just kind of to
back up a little bit, like the history of Charlottesville, Virginia.
At around the time of the Civil War, over half
of the population of the local population was enslaved in
Charlottesville and surrounding Albmarle County, and black people were actually
the majority of the population of Charlottesville until about eighteen

(02:31):
ninety and then it has been on this steady decline,
you know, since then. So to think about it, if
you look at the history of reconstruction in Charlottesville, black
people came out and registered to vote and got politically
organized very quickly in the eighteen sixties already, and were

(02:52):
very influential in electing a black delegate from Charlottesville to
go to the Constitutional Convention. This is when in order
to rejoin the Union, all of the former Confederate states
had to get their state constitutions up to snuff, and
so Virginia, as did the other former Confederate states, you know,

(03:13):
had a constitutional convention. And our delegate from Charlottesville was
James T. S. Taylor. He was a black man from Charlottesville.
He'd been in the United States Colored Troops, and he
had a coalition had coalesced around him of some progressive
whites or savvy savvy whites, you know, that one through

(03:34):
their lot with him and former enslaved people and went
and you know, and represented us and put you know,
Charlottesville in the mix for starting a new state constitution
in Virginia, for finally getting public schools. You know, that's
one thing that we can thank, you know, all those
reconstruction governments around the South, you know, forgetting us those
public schools that we wouldn't have otherwise had that we

(03:56):
didn't have before. You know. So I say all that
back that if you read the historical sources of the
time during reconstruction and post reconstruction in Charlottesville, the white
elites were quite upset with the state of affairs that
had emerged after the Civil War, in which formerly enslaved

(04:17):
people were in leadership compatity and political leadership, you know.
And so when you look at the history of you know,
then finally as as the new you know, there was
a Reconstruction era constitution that started all those wonderful things
such as you know, public schools, you know, and voting

(04:39):
rights for black men. You know. But then as the
Neil Confederates or the Confederate sympathizers start to get the
upper hand again at the end of Reconstruction, and in
Virginia that's you know, more or less in the in
the eighteen eighties, you know, and then there's this steady
imposition of Jim Crow, you know that's going into you know,
in Richmond they put in their giant General Lee statue

(05:01):
in eighteen ninety, you know there, and then in nineteen
oh two there's finally there was this final push that
pushed black people out of political office in Virginia, and
in nineteen oh two, a new Jim Crow state Constitution
was put into effect in nineteen oh two. And so
you have to when you think about all of these
statues being installed, we have to see it as this

(05:25):
it's really resentment politics, you know, that's come about. That
is if you look at these speeches that are delivered
at the installation ceremonies of these statues, and this is
where I'm getting to our General Lee Statue in Charlottesville
specifically with this, you go back and look at those
at the occasion for the day, and these these installation ceremonies,

(05:50):
they were a time for the neo Confederate organizations, the
hosting organizations in our case, the United Daughters of the Confederacy,
the United Conveterate Veterans, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Okay,
we're the hosts, you know for this event. And this
is a two or three day occasion. So there's like
delegations coming in from all over the state, you know,

(06:11):
and you know there's this build up, you know, in
the days ahead, you know, leading up to the installation.
This was in May of nineteen twenty four, you know,
so you see, oh, this delegation has arrived from Rowanoak,
and now the governor is coming in and now this
and now you know, and so you know, the town
is just a twitter. You know that this that they
are hosting the state wide reunion of the United Confederate Veterans.

(06:37):
And there hardly are anymore at this time. They're you know,
quite elderly at this point. So there, you know, there's
quite this you know, uh celebration. And this is also
an annual meeting of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. And
so the fact that little Charlottesville is hosting a statewide reunion,
you know, of the state wide of all the chapters
you know, of these neo Confederate veterans is a big deal.

(06:59):
And then and then you know they're doing this, you know,
and within this context is when the unveiling of this
statue is occurring, you see. And so it's this, it's
this whole build up of kind of lost cause nostalgia,
which which is occurring. And in the speeches at the
Lee statue unveiling ceremony, it's very instructive to listen to

(07:25):
what is being said. You know. You have, of course,
you know, kind of local dignitaries and statewide you know
dignitaries are there. The National Commander of the Sons of
Confederate Veterans is there. He gives a speech. He was
also a klansman, you know. You know, so this says
something there that you know, nineteen twenties Charlottesville. You know,

(07:48):
elites were not averse to rubbing shoulders with a known klansman,
you know, who had been invited to give a speech.
You know, other invited guests. One was a minister who
was a gradu what of the University of Virginia, and
it was you know, just kind of revealing, you know
what he said in his in his speech, you know,

(08:08):
when he was talking about he said that that the
days of reconstruction were worse than war. You know, so
this right exactly, Yeah, does beg the question, and that yeah,
goes without saying, of course that this is you know,
almost exclusively a white audience and you know, the white

(08:28):
school kids. School has been canceled for the day, the
university as classes you know, canceled for the day, and
you know, the businesses are closed. I mean, this is
just you know, quite the community event that's going on. So, yeah,
so reconstruction was worse than war. You know, we're celebrating today,
you know, the you know, the spirit of Lea, the
regeneration you know of our values and you know, there's

(08:51):
just a lot of of conversation in these in these inaugurations, ceremonies,
you know for the unveiling of these statues that hearkened
to rebirth and regeneration, and you know, and also you know,
kind of recalling you know, the days of old, you know,
and the and the values you know of our veterans

(09:11):
you know who are now you know of course in
dwindling number, you know, these Confederate veterans who are there.
And so this and as I said, there's been this
whole build up you know, for days and days, you know,
I mean of course for the planning committee, this has
been going on for weeks and months, you know, the
fundraising and you know, reserving you know blocks you know
at the hotels and you know, and all guesthouses and

(09:33):
all this kind of thing you know, banquet halls, et cetera.
You know. But it's it's also revealing that this installation
ceremony for the Lee statue, it is booke nded with
clan activity and uptick in clan activity before and after
the installation ceremony. And why while we don't have well

(09:57):
we do know, but you know one one clansman who
you know, the Commander Lee, no relation to the General Lee,
but uh but the president of the Sons of the
Confederate veterans, you know. But but to just see all
of this uptick in lost cause nostalgia and then these
these acts of intimidation of you know, clan rallies, clan

(10:21):
posters that were you know, put flyers around town, you know, uh,
and this sort of thing. It just it they're the
atmosphere of intimidation. You know that this must have been
for black residents you know of the time. Uh, you know,
it just it really gives you pause, you know, just
just seeing how public space was commandeered, you know by

(10:45):
these people, these Neil Confederates, you know, to kind of
uh relive what they considered, you know, kind of the
glory days you know, of the nation you know, and
the kind of values to which they want to return,
you know, and and and this sort of thing. So yeah,
so this is going on, you know in the nineteen twenties,

(11:06):
as you know, Charlottesville is you know, locked into Jim
Crow by then, you know, and we're twenty two years
into that Jim Crow State constitution. You know, this is
the mail u you know in which in which this
is taking place. Now. Of course, black people have their
own institutions, you know that they've founded, you know, namely churches,

(11:27):
the Jefferson School, African American what's now the African American
Heritage Center, but the Jefferson School, which was a school
for black children, and the founding of the High school
of a black high school. So this was you know,
the black community had its own nodes of organizational strength,

(11:47):
you know, and goings on that were happening even as
you know, there were these pressures you going on with
the consolidation of Jim Crow should also mention that, you know,
at this at around same time in spring of nineteen
twenty four was the passage of the Virginia Racial Integrity Act,

(12:09):
and this was the kind of the codification of the
so called one Drop Rule, which designated anyone with a
perceived ad mixture of African American or Native American ancestry
to be designated as colored, you know, and kind of

(12:29):
bifurcating the population of Virginia into two categories white or colored.
And so this is also occurring, you know, in nineteen
twenty four. There's a very you know, there's very much
of a legal you know, a kind of strengthening, you
know of in terms of the tools that are being
used to separate the races quote unquote, you know, and

(12:53):
what we're seeing then in the parks, you know, in
our public spaces were you know, kind of designating what
we're well, not public spaces, I mean they were you know,
kind of designated you know, almost shrine like, you know,
as white spaces, you know, and that this is it's
a kind of broadcasting of who's in charge, is what's

(13:16):
going on?

Speaker 2 (13:17):
Right, I think you know today the sons of Confederate
Veterans very much separate themselves from the clan. Right, there
were a heritage organization. We're not the clan, but you
were talking about this sort of clan activity leading up
to the unveiling of the statue. And it's actually just
looking back this morning at some of the archival newspapers
from that week. And so when the day the statue
was placed, you know a few weeks before the unveiling,

(13:39):
it was still covered, it was shrouded, you know, it's
leading up to the big day. So in the front
page of the Daily Progress the day that the statue
was put in the park, that little snippet appears in
the newspaper, right next to a headline about cross burning.
These things are happening on at the same time, right,
And there was absolutely a big clan march through town
that week. And I think one of the it's easy

(14:00):
to forget that these historical moments were experienced by people
whose words that we still have, like people who were
living in this moment. I think one of one moment
in your historical tour that really has stuck with me
all these years is an anecdote about John West, who
is for the listener as a man was born into
slavery in this era, was one of the largest black

(14:20):
landowners in the area, was a successful businessman, and when
the klan marched by that week, you know, they're wearing
their hoods, you don't know who they are. It's you know,
it's mysterious, it's intimidating. But he knew who every single
clansman was because he was their barber, and he recognized
their shoes. And that just feels so intimate to me, right,
that he's he's looking at the shoes of these men
that he knows, and then tomorrow they're going to come

(14:42):
in for a shave and a haircut and he has
to say, you know, yes, sir, thank you.

Speaker 3 (14:44):
Sir, that's right, that's right. And so if you can
just imagine like you know, and here you know John West.
You know, so here's one of the most you know,
influential Black residents of Charlottesville at that time, and he
has to live yeah in you know that there's this
this atmosphere of intimidation that you that, Yeah, his clients
are coming in, you know, they're coming in every ten

(15:06):
days or fourteen days to get a get a trim,
get a you know, touch up, you know here and there,
and yeah, and and he knows that these you know
that that these are you know, the folks who are
kind of maintaining you know that this this public order,
you know that is so uh. You know that you know,

(15:29):
you better not step out of line. And so just
to have one's public space, you know, be demarcated, you know,
in such a demonstrative way, you know, in a monumental way.
You know, really yeah exactly is is uh, it really
illustrates what's going on, you know, and even in you know,

(15:51):
relationships like that, you know that that are so like
you know, intimate a barber and a client, you know,
and and knowing you know what you're as are up
to you know, and how you better stay in line.

Speaker 4 (16:04):
You know, it's scary, that's what that statue was here,
right for almost a century, So skipping ahead that century,
right when the statue finally came down in twenty twenty one,
so not too long ago, right, So the city solicited

(16:27):
proposals for what was to be done with it, right.

Speaker 2 (16:29):
A lot of cities put them into storage or moved
them to battlefields or museums didn't want them. People say, well,
why can't it go to a music museums didn't want it, right.

Speaker 3 (16:39):
Yeah, So because of my work, I get pulled in
on a lot of different statue statue related consultations, let's
put it that way. And I was on the George
Rogers Clark Committee at the University of Virginia when the
university was trying to decide what to do with a
very hideous called it the Genocide Trophy. It was a

(17:02):
statue of the George Rogers Clark, the conqueror of the Northwest.
It literally said that on the facade, you know. And
so we were in consultation with native tribes. We were
contacting the various tribal nations who suffered the onslaught of
the so called Northwest campaign. So these tribes that are

(17:22):
in what is now Illinois and Ohio, et cetera, you know,
and just asking them, you know, would you like to
kind of weigh in, you know, on this, and you know,
really sad genocide is a real thing. Some folks who
are just no longer there, you know, or you know,
were you know, became such a remnant, you know, as
they were so decimated that you know, they kind of

(17:42):
you know, morphed into you know, other tribes others were
you know, went on you know later on to you know,
to Oklahoma or other places. You know, just dispersal, you know,
really was you know. You know. So we're in this
you know, kind of year long process trying to figure
out what to do with UVa's own statue there, you know,
also a gift of Paul Goodlow McIntyre, you know, the

(18:03):
same donor who gave the least statue to the city,
gave this Steorge Rogers Clark statue to the university. And
so in doing that committee work, we made appointments with
all the big players all that, you know, and here
we are. We're from the University of Virginia, you know,
and we've got this, you know, big big monument here,

(18:26):
you know, the Smithsonian, the you know, and you know,
we talked to not about this one, but in another instance,
talk to you know, the Civil War Museum's battle Fields.

Speaker 1 (18:36):
You know.

Speaker 3 (18:37):
I mean, we contacted all the responsible you know, the
folks who are going to curate this in a in
a responsible way, you know, because you know that's it
is a monumental work of art. You know, it has
stood here for a century. It does have historical value
of a sort, you know. And I mean and you know,
and as someone who has you know, teaches history and

(18:58):
research's history, that's my that's my inclination. My initial inclination is, oh, yeah,
well we should preserve I mean, that's you know, kind
of where I go to. But the problem is it's
a very practical one. This is a material object that
is taking up space, literal and figurative space in the world.

Speaker 2 (19:16):
It's six six thousand pounds.

Speaker 3 (19:18):
Yeah, yeah, the very materiality of it. It is taking
up space, and you you have to figure out what
space is it going to inhabit. This is a very
practical question. If it's not in your park anymore, where's
it going to be? We contacted all these museums, you know,
and in several you know, different consultations. I've been a

(19:40):
part of where we've been trying to get rid of statues.
Nobody wants them, Nobody responsible wants them. And you know,
and even if they did have an inclination to want
to do just the expense of it, you know, who
wants to reinforce their floors to put a you know,
century old you know, artistically not exemplary, you know, monument

(20:03):
in it, you know, and then care for I mean,
museums have very limited budgets, they're nonprofit organizations. Why should
they be expending all this energy? I love the My
colleague Aaron Thompson from John Jay College and Cuney, you know,
she's an art crime professor, and she said, you know,
she talked with somebody at the Smithsonian who said something

(20:25):
to the effect that, you know, we're not America's attic
for racist arts. That's not our role. It's like, you know,
it kind of does throw back the responsibility to individual
communities too. It's like, you know, you have a part
to play in this, you know. And so anyway, yeah,
so we tried to do the responsible thing. We contacted

(20:46):
all all the responsible actors out there. They don't want them,
And so then the question becomes, Okay, the city also
doesn't want it sitting on its back lot for forever
in perpetuity. You know, They've got things, you know, they've
got equipment there, they've got things that you know, this
shouldn't be sitting there. Where is it going to go? Again?
This is the material object that exists in the world.

(21:08):
It is a problem, you know, like what physical space
is it going to occupy? We're just such brute practicality here,
and I don't think people quite get what it means
to deal with this. And the only people who want
it are the very people who shouldn't have it, you know,
who want to take this object that's caused us so
much pain and to make a shrine out of it,

(21:31):
you know, that would continue to attract bad actors, you know,
and that it would you know. And I'm a religious
studies scholar, so when I use I don't use the
word shrine lightly. I know what kinds of activities you know, uh,
these engender, you know, and the sorts of emotions that
are you know, evoked, you know, in the ceremonies around

(21:52):
you know, objects that are that are held to be sacred.
You know that that attract you know, kind of devotees,
you know, and so you really have to think about
what does it mean to be a responsible ethical actor?

Speaker 1 (22:04):
You know.

Speaker 3 (22:05):
It's like now we're we're in grown up world. Now,
it's like, okay, it's like we want you know, it's
like there is a material object, where are we going
to put it? It's like have an adjunct car, what
do you do with it? You just let it sit
in your driveway and make your neighbors mad at you.

Speaker 2 (22:18):
Right, And these Confederate statues are sort of the junk
cars of the lost cause, right, because they're not rare, right, Like,
you know, especially right after Unite the Right, a bunch
of cities, all of a sudden, we're like, we got
to get rid of these things. And so suddenly the
market is flooded with Confederate statues. Where are you going
to put them?

Speaker 3 (22:35):
That's right at that and that is the question. And
they are And I've used this this metaphor before, the
metaphor of toxic waste. You know, it's not responsible to say, oh,
we want to get rid of our toxic trash. Here
and then ship it down the road to the next
town and say, Okay, well we're done with that. That's

(22:57):
not responsible to make that town have to deal, you know.
Or maybe there maybe there were some people in that
town that wanted it, you know, but that's not fair
to the other people to have to breathe in that
air and it brings that water that's that's poisoned by this.
That's not that's not being responsible, you know what I mean.
So it really is an ethical question, you know, what

(23:20):
what space these toxic objects are going to inhabit, And
so we were unable to find any responsible actors who
would take this on. And so then it kind of
it's like, well, I guess it's kind of on us.
We have to you know, like the Smithsonian. It's like,

(23:42):
we're not the attic for your racist trash, you know.
It's like it's it's really it's it's on us. It's
on communities to figure this out, you know. And if
there isn't uh, you know, some sort of organization that
can responsibly curate this, you know, and care for it,
then you know, we really need to think about it.
And in the case of this Lee Statue of Charlottesville's

(24:04):
Lee statue. You know, they are about I think there
are about sixteen monuments of Lee, like kind of equestrian
monuments of this sort, you know, in the country. I
can say with confidence that all of the others are
of better quality in Charlottesville.

Speaker 2 (24:21):
That's such an important point, right, because this is, you know,
an important historical piece of art. And that's true of
some of them. Some of them are legitimate pieces of
but this one is not.

Speaker 3 (24:33):
No.

Speaker 2 (24:33):
I mean, it was like he was smuggling hams in
his sleeves.

Speaker 3 (24:36):
Oh well yeah, so yeah, it's it's terrible. It's really
a case. The Lee statue from Charlottesville is really a
case of too many chefs spoiled the soup. You know,
they they you know they The original sculptor, Schradie, you know,
was commissioned to do this, this this work, and he

(24:59):
got behind on the because he was finishing another another
work of his, which is generally regarded as his magnum opus,
which is a monument to General Grant. I just love that.
It's just sorry, p right, you got to wait and
working on my best piece.

Speaker 2 (25:16):
Already finished, a beautiful statue of Grant, and then he died.

Speaker 3 (25:20):
And then he died. He died, and supposedly it might
be apocryphal. I kind of like this tale that supposedly
when he's on his deathbed trade he's on his death
bending and he's still thinking about that unfinished Lee. Probably
he's like, oh, mind the you know, mind the cloth,
you know, keep it damp.

Speaker 2 (25:37):
You know it's a plaster wet, right.

Speaker 3 (25:39):
Yes, keep the plaster. He'd made a maquette, he'd made
a model, play model of the Lee statue for Charlottesville,
for that next commission, the unfinished commission. And he dies
and so now it's like, well, you know, this is
a problem, you know, for for the philanthropist and the
community or the community leaders of Charlotsville who wanted this

(25:59):
Lee statue. So they find they find a ringer, you know,
this young guy, you know, Leo and Telly. Interesting, you
know Italian immigrant in the twenties, which is kind of interest,
you know when you think about, you know, all the
hate that was being.

Speaker 2 (26:13):
Whipped before it towns were white, right.

Speaker 3 (26:15):
And that was before Italians were white.

Speaker 4 (26:17):
Man.

Speaker 3 (26:17):
But he was, yeah, kind of direct from Italy and
from a sculpting background. So maybe they made a little
exception for him. I don't know anyway, So this young guy,
you know, Leo Intell, he takes over and you know
he probably needed a little more practice. I don't know,
it just did didn't turn out well.

Speaker 2 (26:34):
It's like the lego tail on Traveler, like a chunky No.

Speaker 3 (26:38):
It's just yeah, there was We had a sculptor from
around here who himself works in bronze and desk monumental work,
and he kind of just kind of came and looked
at it and he was just you know, just everything's
out of proportion. The gauntlets on the glove are too thick,
you know, the sword is too long, the tail is

(26:59):
too fat, I mean in his head. Yeah, that Lee's
head on top of his shoulders. It just looks like,
you know, kind of like almost like Transformer toy or something.
I mean, it's just really weird, you know, proportions. It's
just it just really was not very well executed because
apparently the maquette, the model that had been made, just
was completely destroyed. The model, the original model by Schrady,

(27:21):
was completely turned to dust, and so Lintelly, the successor sculptor,
had to work from the drawings that remained. You know,
and you know, it just didn't didn't really go very well.
And here's the thing that even the boosters at the time,
that is, you know, the folks that were planning for

(27:42):
the installation of the Lee statue in the nineteen twenties
themselves did not think it was very well executed. We
have diary entries from the Master of Ceremonies of the
installation ceremony, RTW Duke's and he says, he writes, is
like dare to before the installation, he says, went on

(28:02):
a walk, you know tonight, you know, went by the park,
you know, saw the Lee statue. I do not like.

Speaker 2 (28:08):
It me either.

Speaker 3 (28:10):
This is the guy who's please damn see at this
unveiling ceremony. And you know, the next day or two,
how embarrassing. Yeah, and there's op eds even, you know,
also they're saying like, wow, you know that that just
doesn't look good at all, you know. So and these
are the these are the support these are the Neo Confederates,

(28:32):
the one it there and and they've they've noticed that
too many cooks spoiled the soup, you know. And then
apparently the murmurs were sufficient that one of the speakers
at the installation ceremony. I can harken back to that,
you know, at the Lee installation ceremony. You know, I
guess felt compelled to address the complaints that were apparently circulating,

(28:57):
and he said, you know, I'm talking about the portionality
problem that I mentioned before, that just so many it's
just very disjointed, you know, so many parts of the
of the monument are out of proportion to other parts.
And so this speaker at the installation ceremony said, you know,
there are those who say that the pedestal you know,
upon which the Lee statue is, you know, is set,

(29:21):
is too small, But I say the world itself is
too small a pedestal for General Lee just like oh yeah,
good say it's it's yeah, yeah, yeah.

Speaker 2 (29:36):
The portions, I mean, the whole thing. The plinth was
too small, the statue was too large for that tiny park.
It just it was never a good spot for him.

Speaker 3 (29:43):
It was never a good spot. So anyway, all that
is to say, it's a very it's a very poor
work of art. Just just an aesthetic, I mean, and
I'm not one that wants to remove, you know, kind
of any moral considerations from aesthetic. There are some people
philosophers who want to parse that out and this sort
of thing. And but even if you believe you could
do that, which I do not, you know, it's just

(30:05):
really a not It's like having a high school art
project a CE, I give it a C. It's a
high school art project that it's not.

Speaker 2 (30:14):
Worth saving, right, No, Like even if it had not
been this sort of lightning rod in our community, right that,
even if this were a you know, a beautiful piece
of art that was worth saving, I don't. I don't know.
There's two separate concerns, right, Like it's not beautiful enough
to put into a museum regardless, But then also preserving
this object in any capacity just allows it to sort

(30:38):
of continue to be this lightning rod, like you known,
sort of still asking about, well, what's the problem with recontextualization.
Why can't you just put it somewhere else? And I
think that's sort of a broader conversation about these statues
in general. But for our statue, for that Robert E.
Lee statue, right that it had become sort of a
pilgrimage site for vigilanti violence.

Speaker 3 (30:59):
Oh yeah, I don't know that, Like just out for
the listeners in radio land. Just for folks out there
listening that even after the twenty seventeen Unite the Right rally,
this statue stood for another four years in our park
while we had to wrestle through legal issues, legislative and

(31:21):
judicial entanglements that prevented Charlottesville from removing that statue even
after the Unite the Right rally, and during that time,
that four year interim. It's crazy to think about it, huh,
for ye that for four years after Unite the Right,
it was still there, Like.

Speaker 2 (31:39):
The statue made everyone else realized they needed to get
rid of theirs. But because of state law and these lawsuits,
we were still stuck with ours.

Speaker 3 (31:46):
Charlottesville was still stuck with it. And there were and
these you know, different groups, some of the same constituencies
that had attended Unite the Right continued to come and
make their pilgrimages to the least sat and to antagonize
community members by putting up their propaganda near the statues

(32:07):
and even uh, you know, going to the fourth you know,
the the crash site on Fourth Street where a neo
Nazi drove his car you know, into a crowd of
Charlottesville counter protesters and killed community member heather Hire. These
these uh fascists you know, who would make their pilgrimage
to Charlottesville, would make sure and still do on occasion,

(32:31):
uh go to Fourth Street and put up their propaganda
there as well as if to kind of further antagonize
the community at a site of our trauma, you know.
And so it was very clear that this statue would
just wherever it would be, it would continue to be
a beacon for these people. And so really it was
just kind of a question of responsibility knowing this, uh,

(32:54):
knowing that no responsible historical or artistic institution has the
capacity or desire to take it in what does one
do with it? And that it's not an exemplary piece
of art. There are fifteen other monuments that are of
better quality of Lee. We're not going to forget him,
you know, if this particular specimen goes missing, and the

(33:17):
way we see it, we're doing the art world a favor,
because as I've said, it was really, you know, not
a very good, well executed piece of art. So, you know,
with in considering all of that, you know, in seeing
in prior removals, for instance, the Johnny reb the Courthouse,
Confederate Soldier, statue was removed, and there was kind of

(33:39):
no plan in place about where it would go, and
so it ended up, you know, getting sent to a
battlefield that is maintained by a group of Confederate leading
folks that seem to favor kind of lost cause interpretations
of the war. So we'd seen that happen already the
year before in twenty twenty, that when there isn't a plan,

(34:01):
it's one thing to remove it, but then where does
it go? Again, this is a physical object that exists
in space, in physical space, where is this material object
going to go? If you don't have a plan, then
bad things can happen.

Speaker 2 (34:14):
The police resistance the past, the Lae resistance is just
if someone says I will pay to move this, and
the city is paying to store it, then that's an
easy answer and you can't let that.

Speaker 3 (34:24):
Take it right, And so that that went. So when
the County Aldmarle County removed the Johnny reb statue, the
Confederate soldier statue from in front of the courthouse, and
I think that was September of twenty twenty, and we
saw how quickly that got sent to this battlefield that is,
you know, maintained by these you know, kind of lost

(34:45):
cause type folks. That's when Andrea Douglas and I and
Andrea Douglas is the director of the Jefferson School African
American Heritage Center here in Charlottesville. We said, you know,
we still do not have the legal authority to remove
Charlottesville's Lee statue, but we anticipated that perhaps, you know,

(35:09):
in the in the coming year, we might I said,
we need to start making plans now about what can have,
what where the statue should go after its removal, because otherwise,
the same thing that happened to this Johnny reb to
this Confederate soldier statue just kind of getting sent down
the road, you know, to whatever entity organization that wants it,

(35:31):
the same thing's going to happen, and we need to
have a plan in place in order to kind of
capture that so that it doesn't just kind of continue
to circulate and to do harm. So that was our motivation.
So we kind of, you know, in September of twenty twenty,
that's when we really you know, put the pedal to
the metal on starting the planning of this, you know.

(35:54):
And we and mind you, we did not even get
permission until I think It was April the first of
twenty twenty one, and finally the Virginia Supreme Court ruled
in favor of the City of Charlottesville in our efforts
to remove the Lea statue. You know. So this was
you know, six seven months before we even knew if
we could do this, but we said, let's start making plans,

(36:16):
and so we started having these kinds of conversations you know,
with battlefields, with museums, with foundries, you know, just just
you know, just learning, you know, kind of the nuts
and bolts, you know, what are the possibilities here? And
it turns out it's very complicated.

Speaker 2 (36:48):
Right, So, I know there's been sort of jokes around
that it was going back over some of the public
discourse over the years that we've been sort of joking
as a community for years, like why don't we just
melt it? Why don't we just melt it?

Speaker 3 (36:57):
Yeah?

Speaker 2 (36:58):
But when did that because a real idea like when
did it? When did that sort of coalesce into something
that felt possible.

Speaker 3 (37:06):
I think, you know, in September twenty twenty, I think
when the Johnny reb statue was removed and it went on,
you know to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefield Foundation, you know,
and they have this horrible plaque that they're putting up
that talks about how these men died for Virginia, you know,
and it's like they died for thirty eight percent of
Virginians were enslaved at that time, So how are you

(37:28):
saying that they died for Virginia. Also, this is from
alb Marle County. The majority of people here were enslaved.
So how did how did the people supposedly represented by
this statue die for Virginia fight for Virginia, you know
what I mean? So we just like that was so disturbing,
you know, in September of twenty twenty, when that happened,
that's that's really when I just really started working in Earnest,

(37:49):
you know, calling foundries.

Speaker 2 (37:51):
So the idea was always melting.

Speaker 3 (37:53):
I mean, it wasn't until then because see this is funny.
When this whole controversy started in twenty sixteen, when Ziona
Bryant brought up her petition, you know, to to consider
removing these statues. The the position of the activist then
was just move the statue, go back and look at
the signs and at the T shirts and it says

(38:14):
hashtag move the statue. We just wanted it move. Just
take it from the Central Park and put it out
in McIntyre Park where there's more space. Don't have it downtown.
I mean that was kind of like that was the edgy,
you know, And then.

Speaker 2 (38:31):
They should have taken the opportunity back then, see.

Speaker 3 (38:34):
Right exactly that was the opening bid, and you should
have took it, you.

Speaker 2 (38:38):
Know, just these on the table anymore.

Speaker 3 (38:42):
Yeah, exactly that that that that would have been good.
It would be in Mark mctire Park on the outskirts
of town. So and so, you know, when that when
the when, you know, the city appointed this Blue Ribbon
Commission on Race Memorials in Public Spaces to have a
series of public meetings to hear from Unity members what
they wanted to have happened with the statues. Should they

(39:03):
be removed, should you know, what should happen? And you know,
and this Blue Ribbon Commission, you know, hands their final
report to city council, you know, and then city council
takes the vote, you know, Charlotsville City Council in February
of twenty seventeen, and surprising many people, not some of
us who were in the know. But one of the

(39:23):
council members said, yes, I would like to propose a
resolution to remove the lead, not just move it, not
just recontextualize it, because that's you know, if you go
back and read that report, it's actually fairly there's a
couple of different suggests like, well you could move it,
or you could just do this, and you know, and

(39:44):
city council woman, you know, Christian Zakas, said, I would
you know, make a motion to have it removed completely,
you know. So it's like, whoa, Okay, we're you know,
we're making steps, you know. So it was it was about,
you know, it was getting from move from move the
state to remove the statue, as in take it away,

(40:04):
you know, and then it really wasn't until after all
the strife, you know. I mean, I think there were
some people all along who's you know, would say tongue
in cheek, oh we should just melt it down, you know,
or you know, she'd you know, But but the thought
it was just so you know, talk about there's much
talk of overton windows these days, you know, but they're

(40:24):
just they're just when that was being said, it was
always in a kind of jocular manner like, oh, of
course that could never be but or we should melt
it down. It was this kind of offhand right, it
wasn't serious because how could that ever be? Right? I
mean that really that was behind. But what it takes
is somebody taking that seriously and like going through the

(40:47):
practical steps of what would that look like? And so
that's what I started doing in September twenty twenty. It's like,
I keep hearing people say that they want it melted down,
What would that look like? What do you like physically
do that this happened. I'm a humanities person. This was
breaking my brain learning about alloys and you know, compositions.

Speaker 2 (41:06):
Here it becomes an engineering problem.

Speaker 3 (41:09):
It really did. Yeah, and I did. I consulted with
you know, metallurgist engineers, you know, folks at various foundries
you know, to to you know, consulting and say, well,
you have to do this, you have to you know,
consider that. I mean so yeah, it was really in
the fall of twenty twenty when you know, kind of
in earnest started having conversations, you know, with with foundrymen

(41:34):
and with engineers, with folks that work in bronze casting.
You know, but most of the time people didn't want
to talk to us right when they found out, oh
you want to do something with this with the stat
oh no, they just you know, they were they didn't
want to be involved in any controversy. Or we would

(41:55):
get someone who was on board with it, Yes we're
going to do it, and then for instance, you know,
the company got sold and the new owners were like,
what nothing to do with it, you know, or they
won't call us back anymore, or no, or you know,
I mean, just things just kept coming up. So it
was hard to find anyone who would just engage in

(42:17):
a serious way about the questions. And then even when
you could, it was kind of like, you know, you'd
get somebody for a little bit, and then it was
you know, like the fisher, it's like, you know, catch
the fish would swim away, you know, kind of I
don't know it just you know, So it was it
was a lot of different conversations with a lot of
different people, you know, along the way to figure out
like what are the you know, literal and figurative nuts

(42:39):
and bolts of doing this. You know, I learned a lot,
like you know, about standard width of trailers eight and
a half feet Did you know that? Yeah, eight and
half feet yep, right right, you know, and you know
fifty three feet long, and you know, and you know
kind of what kind of what's the hauling capacity, what's

(42:59):
the payload? You know, how do you balance the load?
You know? What is duneage? I mean you're just like
all these things. You know that that just the very
practical steps that one has to take to melt a statue.

Speaker 2 (43:14):
And so it seems like, you know, the conclusion that
you reached was this object can't keep existing because the
fact that it does exist will always be a problem.
So that this is the decision was made that it
needed to be destroyed. But what was sort of the
process of thinking through what do we do with it now?

Speaker 1 (43:33):
Right?

Speaker 2 (43:34):
Like, what is this sort of the vision behind not
just yeah, you know, taking the statue down and putting
up a different piece of public art, but a different
piece of public art that is physically repurposed. Right that
you've you've remediated this material.

Speaker 3 (43:47):
Right right? Yeah, Well, we prefer the word transformed, you know,
to destroyed or or I mean it is it is,
you know, definitely, it is you know, kind of morphing
the material is taking the materials, you know, these raw materials,
and you know, transforming them into kind of usable you know,

(44:10):
kind of ingots, brick sized, you know, pieces of bronze,
so that they can be made into something new. It's
not that we hate art. We want art, right.

Speaker 2 (44:21):
You know doctor Douglas's her background is in art, right.

Speaker 3 (44:25):
Yes, doctor Douglas is an art historian. I mean, we
are the two most unlikely people to be in charge
of such a project. I mean, I'm a religious study scholar.
It's like I've spent years of my life, you know,
studying you know, how people, you know, make make sacred values,
and specifically how they gather around material objects that they regard.

Speaker 2 (44:47):
I don't think that's unlikely at all, right, that this
was an object of veneration for a very harmful cause.

Speaker 3 (44:54):
I mean, I know you're sort of seventeen years, you know,
researching a book about a a very beloved four hundred
year old effigy of the Virgin Mary in Cuba. You
can see my book up here. Well, there's a Cuban fla.
This right here is my book. Look I'm going over
too far.

Speaker 2 (45:12):
Yeah, I see the Virgin Mary back there.

Speaker 3 (45:14):
Yeah, anyway, so I yeah, so that's that's my book
up here. Yeah, right here, this is my book, Kachita's Streets.
I mean, if somebody, oh and you know, and this
has happened before, there have been folks, you know, iconoclass,
if somebody went and destroyed her image there in that
shrine in Cuba, I would be obsensed. I would just

(45:39):
I would be beside myself. I mean, it'd be like
somebody killed you know, a family member. I mean, be
on the next plane to get you know, you would
have to console people. I mean, a four hundred year
old you know, it would just be terrible. You know,
it doesn't have all the hate wrapped into it that
these you know, statues do in this sort of thing.
So what I'm saying is I understand and that people

(46:00):
have very tender feelings toward these material objects that they
have had experiences around them that have bound them together.
Religiare you know the binding that's the original you know
root Latin root of religion you know, is to bind.
You know, I get that. And so yeah, I'm not
a reflexive iconoclast. You know, I'm a Catholic, I'm a

(46:23):
you know, I'm also a you know, participate in these
African inspired religious practices and stuff that you know that
put a lot of you know, emphasis upon, you know,
sacred material objects. So I am kind of I mean,
it is kind of weird that me I would be
involved in this and that, you know, and doctor Douglas,
you know, but it's precisely because we know the power

(46:47):
of these things, and the we're eyewitnesses to what happened here.
You know that we know the power of it, and
so how to be responsible for it. And so to
take something like that that was so harmful and to
be able to use its materials to transform them and
to make something that's meaningful and beautiful and that expresses

(47:08):
our community's values and that includes people rather than kind
of sets people apart, you know, or kind of you know,
symbolizing moments in our history where you know, over half
the local population was completely debased, you know. To be
able to take the material that that was part of

(47:29):
that and transform it into something else, it's just it
just seemed like it just has so much potential, you know.
And and and then the name of the project is
Swords into Plowshares, which comes from a verse from the
prophet Isaiah that they shall turn their swords into plowshares,
they shall turn their their spears into pruning hooks. So

(47:51):
we'll take these implements of destruction and of violence, and
we will transform them in to instruments of to cultivate,
you know, sustenance, you know, uh, you know, you know,
nutrients you know, for a community. I mean, it just

(48:12):
you know, to just to just really transform it, you know,
from from something so ugly you know, into something beautiful,
you know. And we just thought, you know, let's let's
take the chance. Let's try and do this. Let's do
something that's never been done before, because none of these
statues have ever been like, I don't think ever completely
the Confederate ones anyway, have ever been completely destroyed, you know,

(48:33):
like this. Most of them are just in storage somewhere.
And we said, let's let's take this chance to transform.
Let's be responsible first of all, and not send our
toxic waste down the road to another community. And let's
try to do something transformative, you know, for our community.
And maybe this can also move the needle, you know,
in a national and international conversation about art and the

(48:56):
reparative values, you know, potential repair of values of art,
you know, and community building, you know, and so in
our you know, we're the swords into Plowsher's project. We're
hoping to put out a request for proposals, you know,
to artists this year in twenty twenty four, which is

(49:18):
the one hundredth anniversary of when the Least statue was installed.
You know, ideally, you know, fingers crossed, if you know,
it would be wonderful if we could have a completed
statue in twenty twenty seven, which would be the ten
year anniversary of the United the Right Rally, you know,
to to you know, to have something else to give
back to our community. You know, that's a blasting value that,

(49:40):
you know, and for us, it's important that we write
our narrative. There were people who attacked us, you know,
who tried to kind of imprint on us, you know,
some sort of narrative about what we were about and
also kind of you know, reverberated in a you know,
national and international way. And we're really taking control of

(50:02):
the narrative here. We're saying, you know, we we are
going to say who we are and we're going to
express that, you know, and we do value art, you know,
we want it to be an art that reflects our values.

Speaker 4 (50:16):
Right.

Speaker 2 (50:16):
I think this is a recognition that art does have power.
It had the power to harm, It had the power
to to bring great harm to this community. But it
was you know, that art was harming people just by
existing in that space, even before Unite the Right. And
now those same materials have hopefully the power to bring
some repair. Yeah, So it wasn't It wasn't just the

(50:37):
practical you know, I think you were saying. It started
out a sort of a practical question is what do
you do with this large object? And so the practical
answer is you reduce its size, you melt it down,
You remove it, and you melt it down. But it's
not just practical, right, there is there is incredible symbolic
value in using that material, that metal, right that I

(50:57):
think in some of the articles you all talked about
as it was melting there were impurities in the metal.
So as the statue is being melted down, the impurities
are being extracted from it, it's being purified and now
it can be repurposed and that's really beautiful.

Speaker 3 (51:12):
Yeah, it is. Yeah, the slag getting pulled off the
top and just yeah, just it was incredible, you know,
to see for sure.

Speaker 2 (51:20):
And so at this stage, you guys are soliciting community input.
I think there's a sort of a community survey out
about sort of what parks people frequent, how they're using
the parks, how they're engaging with the parks. And so
this year there'll be a request for proposals for artists
to sort of put forth their vision for this bronze.

Speaker 3 (51:37):
Right, and this is it's nice because this is all
coinciding with the city if Charlottesville has for some time
wanted to do a renovation of its downtown park. So
this and this has been a long time coming that
there are you know, sedated, you know, all of this
drama with the with the statues, but it's just really
a nice opportunity to just kind of for the community

(51:59):
to just kind of take stock. It's like, Okay, we're
you know, we're whatever, you know, going on seven years
out from Unite the Right. You know, we're eight years
out from you know, Zionist initial petition. You know, you
know this this statue has been you know taken away,
it has been melted, and it just feels like a
literal and figurative clearing of the land. You know, it

(52:20):
just feels like you know, people have asked, you know
sometimes it's like, oh, there's you know, all that empty
space at the parks, and I was like, yeah, isn't
it nice. It's just kind of like I mean to
just kind of I think it's nice to just have
just push the pause button for you know, in terms
of things that are there for several years, and just
kind of allow our our minds to open, you know,

(52:41):
just like the space itself, and just to just imagine
what that space can look like. I think it's really
instructive and I wish more communities could have the opportunity
to do this. Actually yes, but you know, for instance,
taking that survey you know that community members in Charlottesville
are doing now about you know, yeah, how how do
you know?

Speaker 2 (53:01):
Where?

Speaker 3 (53:02):
Where do you what parks you go to? What activities
do you engage in there? What do you like? You know,
what would you like to see more of? You know
this sort of thing. It's it's great to you know,
to consider this. You know that this is something that
has been you know, America's uh uh you know, the
United States is uh, you know, public parks has you

(53:22):
know been something that you know since the nineteenth century
is something that's that's been a real gem, you know
in some of our our public spaces, you know, and
in some of our cities, and you know, and this
is something to you know, to celebrate, and it's it's
nice to be able to kind of take stock and
to really, you know, think about how public spaces can
express our professed values, you.

Speaker 2 (53:44):
Know, instead of sort of reacting to hate, like taking
a moment to envision not our reaction to or you know,
what we don't want, but think about what we do
want in that space exactly, and what would what would
serve our community. And I think that's sort of the
project is now, right, just sort of envisioning a positive
future rather than trying to remediate a negative past.

Speaker 3 (54:06):
It's and it's so nice because I felt like we
were fighting, fighting, fighting for so many years. You know,
we're in court, or we're protesting, or we're going to
lobby at the General Assembly or now we're going to
city council. I mean, there was just you know, all
you know, so so fraught, and so now it's just
so free to like, oh, to be able to imagine,
you know, and to be thinking forward. Yeah, And constructively, creatively.

(54:29):
That's a great feeling.

Speaker 2 (54:31):
So how can people sort of keep up with Swords
into Plowshares, stay up to date on the project and
it's it's progress, and more importantly, how can they support
Sords into plow Shares.

Speaker 3 (54:40):
Yeah, so you can visit sipseville dot com. That's s
I P C V I L L E dot com.
So Sipcville that's Swords into Plowshares Ceville. And we have
occasional updates there with news stories about what we're doing
and upcoming meet things which will be happening at the

(55:02):
Jefferson School where we'll be you know, kind of presenting
results of of you know, surveys that we've done, you know,
and uh and also visiting speakers who will be coming
to talk about, you know, what what does art mean
in public spaces? You know, So we'll be able to

(55:23):
kind of you know, talk with uh, you know, some
experts that have come in, you know, to advise us
on you know, how to think about about what we
want in our in our in our parks going forward.

Speaker 2 (55:36):
And can people make donations to SIP on the website?

Speaker 3 (55:39):
Yes, on the website there is a portal, right, there
on on sipseyville dot com. Definitely welcome that as well.

Speaker 2 (55:47):
And those donations go towards for the the ultimate creation
of this piece of art, correct, right, It is not
cheap to work with that much more.

Speaker 3 (55:56):
It is not. Yeah, so we're we're you know, putting
together you know, fun to pay the artists, you know,
for the commissioning the artists. You know, we're also applying
for you know, grants from foundations and this sort of
thing too. But of course there are other expenses associated
with you know, processing materials and yeah and all that.

Speaker 2 (56:14):
So, yeah, so that is s I P C V
I L l E dot com slash donate to make
sure that that artist gets paid. Absolutely well, Juliane, thank
you so much for joining us today, and I'm looking
forward to seeing our our new beautiful piece of art,
hopefully by twenty twenty seven.

Speaker 3 (56:35):
Yeah, yeah, it's great. Well, thank you for your interest, Mollie,
and thank you to all the listeners and supporters out there.
Means a lot to us that you know, your interest
in us and and your support. Appreciate it.

Speaker 2 (56:47):
I think we all love those photos of Lee's melting face.

Speaker 3 (56:53):
It is icon. I gotta say it's iconic you know.
I yeah, well always have that, have that memory. Thank
you so much.

Speaker 1 (57:03):
All right, It could Happen here as a production of
cool Zone Media. For more podcasts from cool Zone Media,
visit our website coolzonemedia dot com or check us out
on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen
to podcasts. You can find sources for It could Happen Here,
updated monthly at coolzonemedia dot com slash sources.

Speaker 2 (57:26):
Thanks for listening.

It Could Happen Here News

Advertise With Us

Follow Us On

Host

Robert Evans

Robert Evans

Show Links

About

Popular Podcasts

The Bright Side

The Bright Side

Start your day with The Bright Side, a new daily podcast from Hello Sunshine. Co-hosted by journalist, TV host, and podcaster, Danielle Robay and Emmy-nominated journalist, host, and producer, Simone Boyce, The Bright Side brings your daily dose of culture and inspiration – with the latest trends, celebrity interviews, and real conversations with women doing amazing things while navigating life’s transitions, big and small. The Bright Side is a talk show created to inspire, educate, and empower women as they tackle life each day and add joy to their morning routines. Join Danielle and Simone and the Hello Sunshine community every weekday for entertainment, culture, wellness, books, and more.

Ways To Win

Ways To Win

Winning is an everyday mindset, and the coaches are here to help. Hosts Craig Robinson and John Calipari use their on-court wisdom to solve your off-court problems. Hosted on Acast. See acast.com/privacy for more information.

Dateline NBC

Dateline NBC

Current and classic episodes, featuring compelling true-crime mysteries, powerful documentaries and in-depth investigations.

Music, radio and podcasts, all free. Listen online or download the iHeart App.

Connect

© 2024 iHeartMedia, Inc.