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

Charlottesville’s Lee statue meets its end, in a 2,250-degree furnace


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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. 


Nov 01, 2023 by C-Ville

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Confederate monument that prompted deadly Unite the Right rally is melted down

Oct 27, 2023 by CNN

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New life after ‘Unite the Right’: Charlottesville statue of Robert E. Lee melted down to create new art

Oct 26, 2023 by NPR

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Confederate monument melted down to create new, more inclusive public art
Washington Post

Oct 26, 2023 by Washington Post

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Charlottesville’s Lee statue meets its end, in a 2,250-degree furnace
The Guardian

Oct 26, 2023 by The Guardian

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Robert E Lee statue that sparked Charlottesville riot is melted down: ‘Like his face was crying’
The Guardian

Oct 26, 2023 by Religion News Service

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Charlottesville’s Robert E. Lee statue melted down
The Daily Progress

Oct 26, 2023 by The Daily Progress

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Charlottesville's statue of Robert E. Lee melted

Oct 26, 2023 by C-Ville

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Swords into Plowshares melts down controversial Lee statue
New York Times

Oct 27, 2023 by New York Times

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The Most Controversial Statue in America Surrenders to the Furnace
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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 PostNPRHuffPost, the Associated PressHarper'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.


We have additional support from Descendants of Enslaved Communities at UVA, the Bridge Progressive Arts Initiative, as well as local clergy groups, arts organizations, educators, and activists. 

Where we go from here

  1. Spread the word! Share this project with other people who are excited about fighting racism and white supremacy. 
  2. If you are an artist, creator, or business and would like to support our project, please donate here.
  3. If you like this project and would like to get involved in a more substantial way, please contact us here.
  4. Take the survey to let us know your ideas here: survey