“At one moment, balanced on the fiery furnace, it looked like Lee’s bronze face was crying. I know I was,” Lisa Draine, the interim project director of the melting process, said, according to The Guardian.
The melting, which was witnessed by organisers and activists, came about after a years-long endeavour to remove the statue from its place in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. The effort was not without great backlash from far-right groups.
The statue, which depicted Confederate General Robert E Lee sitting on top of a horse, was voted to be taken down by 3-2 at Charlottesville City Council in 2017, along with another statue in the city and the renaming of Lee Park.
The statue was eventually removed in 2021, and the Jefferson School African American Heritage Centre, a non-profit organisation in Charlottesville arranged for the bronze statue to be melted down to be turned into a new piece of public art.
The location where the statue was melted has been kept a secret, out of concern for the “physical safety” of the foundry workers.
The heritage centre melted the statue in a 2,250-degree furnace as part of a project known as Swords Into Plowshares, according to the project website.
Ms Draine said the melting process took hours; all the while, it made her relive those moments in the riots six years ago.
“I thought of everything that had happened in the last six and a half years,” she said, according to The Guardian.
“On August 11 and 12, 2017, with my two daughters, I stood up to torch-bearing neo-Nazis and white nationalists with guns in our streets. My family was traumatised when my younger daughter was badly injured in the terrorist car attack that killed Heather Heyer and injured dozens that day. Our lives would never be the same. The fight to remove Confederate statues from our parks became personal.”
The ‘Unite the Right’ rally brought together groups of white supremacists in a planned demonstration to preserve the Confederate statue.
Many people took to the streets in Charlottesville in 2017 with racist symbols on flags and carrying weapons and were met with counter-protestors.
The rally became violent on the second day and at least one self-identifying Ku Klux Klansman firing his pistol near a Black protestor.
A white supremacist demonstrator later drove his car into a crowd of peaceful counter-protestors, which killed a woman named Heather Heyer.
Jalane Schmit, the co-founder of Charlottesville Black Lives Matter and a professor at the University of Virginia, was also there to witness the statue be destroyed.
“It felt like an execution,” she said, according to the newspaper.
“It was very solemn. Nobody cheering, nothing like that. It was very quiet. People weren’t even talking.”
The Swords to Plowshares project now will review different proposals for public art made out of the bronze in the hopes that a new art piece can be installed before the 10th anniversary of the ‘Unite the Right’ riot.
The Independent has contacted Swords Into Plowshares for comment.