Before this weekend’s violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, Emancipation Park, formerly known as Lee Park, was already a source of contention for locals for over a year.
The city had voted earlier this year for the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee to be moved, but it is currently facing a lawsuit from litigants claiming it doesn’t have the right to remove the sculpture.
Over the weekend, fighting broke out when protestors from the “Unite the Right” rally opposing the statue’s removal clashed with counter-protestors.
While the city still cannot remove the statue right now, it did vote to change the park’s name in June 2017 as well nearby Jackson Park, which has now been named Justice Park.
These changes are in response to the Charlottesville City Council making a commitment to “reveal and tell the full story of race in Charlottesville” back in August 2016 by forming a Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials and Public Spaces (BRC).
“The BRC’s Final Report acknowledged that far too often Charlottesville’s public spaces and histories have ignored, silenced or suppressed African American history, as well as the legacy of white supremacy and the unimaginable harms done under that cause,” the City of Charlottesville wrote in its request for proposals.
In order to comply with the BRC’s recommendations, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the redesign of both parks back in June.
The purpose of the RFP is to find a master plan that will better connect the two parks, which are currently two city blocks apart.
In the RFP, the firms submitting plans are requested to redesign and transform both Emancipation Park and Justice Park and to take note of the Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama, for opportunities to incorporate elements from its design.
The Memorial to Peace and Justice is a national memorial funded by the Equal Justice Initiative and is designed to commemorate the victims of lynching with a series of concrete columns standing for each U.S. county where lynching took place.
The memorial is designed by Boston-based MASS Design Group, who worked to visually convey the gravity and emotion of these past events. MASS Design Group is known for its work in various countries and says, “Architecture is not neutral. It either heals or hurts. Our mission is to research, build and advocate for architecture that promotes justice and human dignity.”
The Memorial to Peace and Justice is scheduled to open in 2018.
The deadline for the master plans is today and applicants are asked to submit two plans with options that include and do not include the statues, but the commission advises they no longer exist in the public space without “their history as symbols of white supremacy is revealed and their respective parks transformed in ways that promote freedom and equality in our community.”
According to Curbed, the director of the Charlottesville Parks & Recreation Department Brian Daly had no comment on whether the events of the weekend have altered the city’s timeline for the redesign of the parks but that they will follow standard procedures and a team will evaluate the proposals and award the commission.