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Charlottesville Removes Confederate Statues

DANIELLE KURTZLEBEN, HOST:

It's been nearly four years since white supremacists brought violence and bloodshed to Charlottesville, Va., protesting the city's decision to remove Confederate monuments. Today, those statues came down, and area residents cheered. From member station WVTF Sandy Hausman reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHAINS CLANKING)

SANDY HAUSMAN, BYLINE: The city kept plans to remove statues of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson quiet until last night, hoping to minimize the risk of further violence. But those who had fought to keep Confederate monuments in place were largely absent today. And about 200 people who showed up for the early morning event were thrilled as a crane lifted each 6,000-pound sculpture from its pedestal.

(CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Let freedom ring.

HAUSMAN: Tanya Chanda and her husband drove for more than an hour on their anniversary to be here. And as the Jackson statue was removed, she wept.

TANYA CHANDA: My ancestors were slaves and to see something - it's really emotional.

HAUSMAN: Others, like Charlie Bruce, celebrated the moment as historic.

CHARLIE BRUCE: I used to hang out in this park a lot in high school, and we never really examined what it meant to be in a park that was named after a Confederate general and the horrible things he did. But I texted all of my friends this morning who used to hang out here, statue's coming down. I sent photos and videos, and we're just so happy.

HAUSMAN: University of Virginia professor Jalane Schmidt has fought for years to get rid of the statues. She was glad to see them go and heartened to hear more discussion of racism and the need for change.

JALANE SCHMIDT: There's been more conversations just nationwide about how we memorialize figures and history in our public spaces and what we can do to make public spaces more inclusive.

HAUSMAN: But 15-year-old Zeniah Bryant thought too little had changed since the Unite the Right rally here in 2017 and was not reassured by the absence of white supremacists in the crowd.

ZENIAH: They don't have their signs. They don't have their tiki torches, but they're still here.

HAUSMAN: And the Reverend Marvin Morgan said the struggle is far from over.

MARVIN MORGAN: We've made a lot of progress, but what saddens me with my gray hair - I'm 73 years old - is that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have to fight those battles all over again.

HAUSMAN: The statues were taken by truck to an undisclosed location. Officials are weighing offers from museums willing to take them. As soon as the monuments were gone, city council met and approved removal of a third statue, this one depicting the Native American woman Sacagawea cowering behind two white explorers. Her descendants have told the city that her portrayal is offensive to them.

For NPR News, I'm Sandy Hausman in Charlottesville.

(SOUNDBITE OF TONY BONES THE PRODUCER'S "CLASSIC") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.