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Robert E. Lee statue at the center of Charlottesville’s storm

White nationalists were in the quiet Virginia college town to protest the city’s plan to remove the statue of the Confederacy’s top general, and counterdemonstrators were there to oppose them. The statue has stood in the city since 1924.

Since white nationalists marched Friday in Charlottesville, Virginia, the quiet college town has seen a nighttime brawl lit up by torches and smartphones, and worse violence that left one person dead and dozens injured.

At the center of the chaos is a statue memorializing Robert E. Lee. It depicts the Confederacy’s top general, larger than life, astride a horse, both green with oxidation.

The white nationalists were in Charlottesville to protest the city’s plan to remove that statue, and counterdemonstrators were there to oppose them. The statue — begun by Henry Merwin Shrady, a New York sculptor, and finished after his death by an Italian, Leo Lentelli — had stood in the city since 1924. But over the past couple of years some residents and city officials, along with organizations like the NAACP, had called for it to come down.

One local official made a similar suggestion as early as 2012 and quickly discovered that emotions surrounding the issue run deep.

People fly into the air as a vehicle drives into a group of protesters demonstrating against a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (Ryan M. Kelly/The Daily Progress via AP)

Coverage of the Charlottesville attack:

It was during the Virginia Festival of the Book, a series of readings and events held every year in Albemarle County, which includes Charlottesville.

At a talk given by author and historian Edward Ayers, a Charlottesville city councilor, Kristin Szakos, asked about the city’s Confederate monuments. She wondered whether the city should discuss removing them.

People around her gasped. “You would have thought I had asked if it was OK to torture puppies,” she…

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