Robert E. Lee statue that sparked Charlottesville riot melted down
A statue of a US Civil War general for the pro-slavery Confederacy that became the focus of protests for racial justice has been melted down in secret, The Washington Post reported on Thursday.
The towering bronze statue of General Robert E. Lee, who commanded the Army of Northern Virginia during the bloody 1861-65 conflict, was removed in July 2021 from a public park in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The Post said the statue, which had been handed over to the city's Black history museum, was melted down on Saturday at a foundry whose location is being kept secret.
Tensions over the fate of the Lee statue led to violence in August 2017 when an avowed white nationalist drove his car into a crowd of demonstrators in Charlottesville.
The protesters had gathered in opposition to white supremacists who staged a "Unite the Right" rally against plans to remove the statue of Lee.
Then-president Donald Trump came under fire when he said afterward that there were "very fine people on both sides" of the protests.
The Charlottesville violence gave new life to a campaign to remove Confederate symbols which first gained momentum following the June 2015 murders in South Carolina of nine black churchgoers by another white supremacist.
The campaign picked up again following the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd, an African American killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
The Post said bronze ingots from the Lee statue will be used by a group known as "Swords Into Plowshares" to make a piece of public artwork to be displayed in Charlottesville.
The newspaper quoted the owner of the foundry, a Black man who was not identified, as saying it was an "honor" to melt down the statue.
"The risk is being targeted by people of hate, having my business damaged, having threats to family and friends," he said.
But, he added, "when you are approached with such an honor, especially to destroy hate, you have to do it.
"It is time to dismantle this hate, this infection that has plagued our beautiful country," he said.
During the Civil War, the Confederate South seceded from the United States and fought to maintain slavery, which the rest of the country had abolished.