A statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee near the entrance of the Duke University chapel was vandalized overnight Wednesday, the university confirmed Thursday morning.
“Each of us deserves a voice in determining how to address the questions raised by the statues of Robert E. Lee and others, and confront the darker moments in our nation’s history,” university president Vincent E. Price said in a statement acknowledging the vandalism. “For an individual or group of individuals to take matters into their own hands and vandalize a house of worship undermines the right, protected in our Commitment to Diversity and Inclusion, of every Duke student and employee to participate fully in university life.”
The vandalism follows a wave of removed Confederate statues and monuments — both at the behest of local governments, and as a result of criminal property damage — following a white supremacist rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia ostensibly planned to protest the removal of a statue of Lee from a park.
White supremacist groups organized the rally — despite President Donald Trump’s claim that “very fine people” joined in for the statue’s sake — and one counter-protester was left dead on Saturday after a man who had been photographed with the white supremacist group American Vanguard allegedly rammed his car into a crowd.
Protesters on Monday brought down a Confederate statue in Durham, North Carolina. On Tuesday night, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama ordered a Confederate monument in his city to be covered in plywood walls — though he was later sued in his official capacity by Alabama’s attorney general for allegedly violating a new law against removing or altering certain monuments on public land.
Further sanctioned monument removals have taken place across the country.
After initially saying Tuesday that the status of Confederate monuments should be left to the governments with jurisdiction over them, Trump came out strongly Thursday morning on behalf of the Charlottesville white supremacist protesters’ demands, saying he was “[s]ad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments” and that “the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”