Swords Into Plowshares
Swords Into Plowshares is an innovative project to melt down the statue of Robert E. Lee that formerly stood in one of Charlottesville's public parks and use the bronze to make a new work of public art. You can read our proposal and 28 letters of support here.
What is Swords Into Plowshares?
Swords Into Plowshares is our vision for transforming Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue into a new commissioned work of public art. In naming the initiative, we have drawn inspiration from the prophetic vision of Isaiah 2:4, which celebrates turning tools of violence into ones of peace and community-building. This project is already shaping the national conversation around toppled Confederate statues by modeling a community-engaged process of creative transformation – one that turns historic trauma into an artistic expression of democratic values and inclusive aspirations.
How it started
In 2016, a high school student named Zyahna Bryant created a petition calling for the removal of the Lee statue. It gathered significant local support and City Council eventually authorized the statue's removal. The Lee statue erupted from a local to an international symbol of white supremacy when, in August 2017, neo-Nazi rioters descended on Charlottesville to halt the removal.
The violence that engulfed our city became synonymous with globally-resurgent white nationalism. Many were injured and a woman named Heather Heyer was killed, when a Nazi-sympathizer drove his car into a crowd of racial justice demonstrators.
The Lee statue has been a singular source of harm to the Charlottesville community. We believe that racist symbols are not immutable parts of our cultural heritage. “Swords into Plowshares” offers Charlottesville–and the nation–the chance to transform our trauma into renewal through art.
The statue was removed from a public park in July 2021. In October, Charlottesville City Council requested proposals from organizations interested in taking possession of the statue. You can read our proposal and 28 letters of support here. This proposal was covered by national news syndicates such as the Washington Post, NPR, HuffPost, the Associated Press, Harper's Bazaar, and the New Yorker.
About the coalition
We are a coalition of Charlottesville-based organizations spearheaded by the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center. The coalition includes the Memory Project at the University of Virginia's Karsh Institute of Democracy, UVA's Institute for Environmental Negotiation, and Virginia Humanities.
Where we go from here
- Spread the word! Share this project with other people who are excited about fighting racism and white supremacy.
- If you are an artist, creator, or business and would like to support our project, please donate here.
- If you like this project and would like to get involved in a more substantial way, please contact us here.
- Take the survey to let us know your ideas here: survey