A Confederate monument that helped spark a violent white supremacist rally in Virginia nearly four years ago has been hoisted off its stone pedestal.
Work to remove the statue of General Robert E Lee began early on Saturday morning in Charlottesville, with crews also expected to take down a second Confederate monument.
Dozens of spectators lined the streets surrounding the park, and a cheer went up as the statue was lifted off the pedestal.
City mayor Nikuyah Walker earlier gave a speech in front of the Lee monument as a crane was put in place to remove it.
“Taking down this statue is one small step closer to the goal of helping Charlottesville, Virginia and America grapple with the sin of being willing to destroy black people for economic gain,” she said.
The removal of the statue follows years of contention. A long legal fight coupled with changes in a state law that protected war memorials held up the removal for years.
Its removal – and another of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson – comes nearly four years after violence erupted at the infamous Unite the Right rally.
Heather Heyer, a peaceful counter-protester, died in the violence, which sparked a national debate over racial equity, further inflamed by Donald Trump’s insistence that there was “blame on both sides”.
Only the statues, not their stone pedestals, are being removed. They will be taken down and stored in a secure location until the city council makes a final decision about what should be done with them.
Under state law, the city was required to solicit parties interested in taking the statues during an offer period that ended on Thursday. It received 10 responses.
A coalition of activists commended the city for moving quickly to take the statues down after the offer period ended.
As long as the statues “remain standing in our downtown public spaces, they signal that our community tolerated white supremacy and the Lost Cause these generals fought for”, the coalition called Take ’Em Down Cville said.
The most recent removal push for the Lee monument began in 2016, thanks in part to a petition started by a black high school student, Zyahna Bryant. A lawsuit was quickly filed, putting the city’s plans on hold, and white supremacists seized on the issue.
“This is well overdue,” said Ms Bryant, who is now a student at the University of Virginia. “No platform for white supremacy. No platform for racism. No platform for hate.”