Confederate Heritage Update

Confederate heritage is continuing its nationwide retreat.

The Confederate Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery (Photo: Tim Evanson/Creative Commons)

We start with this article about confederate statues on public land. We learn this about the confederate memorial in Arlington National Cemetery: “It was placed in 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), a group of elite Southern white women who were highly influential back then and whose main purpose was to push Lost Cause myths about the origins and legacy of the Civil War. Two favorites were that slavery wasn’t the war’s main cause and that human bondage wasn’t all that bad anyway—in fact, it was a largely benevolent institution that rarely involved cruelty. Another was that the Ku Klux Klan, a terrorist organization that arose to restore white supremacy during Reconstruction, was good. The finished product, sculpted by a Confederate veteran and unveiled with the blessing of President Woodrow Wilson—a Virginia native who wrote a popular history of the United States that described slavery in terms similar to the UDC—features a goddess-like female symbolizing the South, standing on a huge pedestal decorated with shields representing the Confederate states, along with life-sized figures that show mythological beings mingling with Southern soldiers and civilians. In one spot, an enslaved female is holding the child of a white officer. In another, an enslaved man is dutifully following his master off to war.” The article says, “it rises over the graves of several hundred Confederate soldiers, some of whom were brought in for reburial during an era when Northern politicians, including presidents, were keen on public demonstrations of North-South reconciliation. Celebrating this idea mainly involved white people—Black people and their views of the conflict weren’t part of the process—and the mood among Southerners was notably defiant. Speaking at the monument’s unveiling on June 4, 1914, Bennett H. Young, commander-in-chief of the United Confederate Veterans, insisted that the South’s cause was just in every way. ‘The sword said the South was wrong, but the sword is not necessarily guided by conscience and reason,’ he said. ‘The power of numbers and the longest guns cannot destroy principle nor obliterate truth. Right lives forever.’ ” The article also says, “Whatever happens in the short term, this issue isn’t going away, and the debate is spreading. Last July Fourth, prompted by false rumors on social media, self-styled patriots showed up at Gettysburg, armed and ready to do battle over what they thought was an antifa plan to kill Trump supporters and deface or destroy the numerous Confederate monuments that stand on the battlefield. ‘Among them was a guy named Nathan who made the nearly seven-hour drive to Gettysburg from Cuyahoga County in Ohio with three of his buddies,’ said a report in the Evening Sun of Hanover, Pennsylvania. ‘ ‘It’s history,’ he said. ‘We learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.’ As he spoke, he said it was no different than people having to learn the history of Nazi Germany. When it was mentioned that there are no monuments to Hitler or other Nazis in Germany, he said, ‘The United States is a different culture. It’s different here.’ ‘ Earlier, the paper ran a letter to the editor by a woman who thinks the Confederate monuments should come down. ‘ ‘You can’t erase history!’ they cry, but disgraced General Lee was never 40 feet high, nor did angels herald the Confederate troops as depicted by mythologizing monuments to the Confederacy,’ she wrote. ‘It’s as if the opposition has willingly been gaslit by proponents of the false Lost Cause narrative.’ This focus on battlefields is still fairly new: the Confederate monuments we usually hear about are the ones on public property in cities and towns. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights group based in Montgomery, Alabama, tracks such monuments in a regularly updated report called Whose Heritage?: Public Symbols of the Confederacy. The most recent tally, from September 15, 2020, says that 93 symbols have been removed, relocated, or renamed since the killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. Nearly 1,800 monuments, parks, schools, state holidays, and other such symbols remain.” In writing about the monuments at Gettysburg, the author tells us, “According to the Park Service, there are now 1,328 monuments, memorials, plaques, and tablets, and most commemorate the Union. The Confederate statues that draw fire are the so-called state monuments, and there’s one for each of the 11 Confederate states. The first, the Virginia Monument, was dedicated in June 1917—the same month American troops started arriving in Europe to fight in World War I—in a ceremony that celebrated North-South reconciliation and the heroism of Robert E. Lee, who sits on top of the structure astride his horse, Traveller. At the ceremony, Virginia Governor Henry Carter Stuart said, ‘The imperishable bronze shall outlive our own and other generations…and until the eternal morning of the final reunion of quick and dead, the life of Robert Edward Lee shall be a message to thrill and uplift the heart of all mankind.’ The monument’s debut represented a major shift in attitude. According to the Gettysburg Compiler—a digital publication run by students and staff at Gettysburg College—the unveiling was ‘a crucial moment in reconciliationist memory of the war. For the majority of the previous 50 years, Union veterans and Northern politicians vehemently opposed nearly every attempt to commemorate the Confederacy at Gettysburg.’ That changed, explains writer Zachary Wesley, as Union veterans died off and wartime patriotism fueled reconciliationist spirit. Even so, says Wesley, there were limits: ‘One suggested inscription containing the phrase ‘They Fought for the Faith of Their Fathers’ was rejected outright’ by the federal authorities who oversaw battlefield monuments. ‘They wanted a politically neutral message in the monuments on the landscape.’ These days, a giant statue of Robert E. Lee can’t be viewed as politically neutral. He was a slave owner who led an army that fought to defend and expand the institution. But as the years passed and more Confederate state monuments went up, the South slowly began to get its way with messaging. The North Carolina Monument, dedicated in 1929 and created by Mount Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum—a supporter of the 1920s Ku Klux Klan who also worked on the massive Confederate carving at Stone Mountain, Georgia—shows four soldiers advancing toward their fate, which was probably grim. North Carolina suffered the largest number of casualties of any Confederate state—6,000—and the inscription understandably focuses on valor. ‘To the eternal glory of the North Carolina soldiers,’ it says. ‘Who on this battlefield displayed heroism unsurpassed, sacrificing all in support of their cause.’ By the time South Carolina was heard from, in 1963, Lost Cause editorializing had shown up in a way that once would have been blocked. ‘Dedicated South Carolinians stood and were counted for their heritage and convictions,’ the monument’s inscription says. ‘Abiding faith in the sacredness of States Rights provided their creed.’ The chief motivation—protecting slavery—isn’t mentioned. Five more state monuments appeared between 1964 and 1982, including the two that interest me most: Louisiana (dedicated in 1971) and Mississippi (1973). They stand out because they were both done by a talented sculptor who was widely known back then: Donald De Lue, a native of Massachusetts who had trained in Boston, Paris, and New York. I wondered why a Northern artist was involved and whether there was any significance to the fact that these monuments were commissioned during the height of the civil rights era. My hunch was that they were pushed by Lost Cause believers.”

The article also tells us, “There had been at least two feelers about creating a Mississippi monument, sent directly by Mississippians in the early and mid-1960s. But according to the Gettysburg Times, the idea also got a significant boost from a Civil War buff named Donald MacPhail, who was chairman of the monuments committee for a group called the Gettysburg Civil War Round Table. In February 1966, he sent letters and photographs to newspapers in both Louisiana and Mississippi, urging officials to consider commissioning a monument. An editorial writer for the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate talked glowingly about the correspondence, in which MacPhail said Round Table members ‘sincerely believe that all the men from all the states, both North and South…should be honored and represented on the battlefield.’ Many influential people agreed, and each state ended up hiring De Lue, who was best known for sculpting Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves, completed in 1953 as part of the American Cemetery in Normandy, and the Rocket Thrower, created for the 1964 New York World’s Fair.” Regarding the Louisiana Memorial, the article states, “This image is conventional; the Louisiana monument is more ambitious and unusual. Known as Peace and Memory, it depicts an angelic figure rising over the body of a young Louisiana cannoneer who’s draped under a Confederate flag. The spirit, holding a trumpet and a flaming cannonball, rests on a laurel, a traditional symbol of heroes. In a 1968 letter to Gettysburg superintendent George F. Emery, De Lue described what he was trying to say. ‘A great symbolic female figure representing the spiritual idea of Peace and Memory flies over the battlefield,’ he wrote, ‘blowing a long shrill clarion call … over the long-forgotten shallow graves of the Confederate dead. It is Taps for all the Heroic Dead at Gettysburg.’ Judging by archived correspondence, the Park Service was satisfied with the idea, but officials told the Louisiana contingent to dial back its proposed inscription, for reasons of historical accuracy. At one point, they wanted to call a particular Louisiana artillery barrage the greatest such attack ‘that was ever laid down in America.’ Park Service historian Thomas J. Harrison nixed this. ‘The statement…is difficult to prove,’ he wrote, adding that there were other cannon barrages ‘that were as great if not greater.’ The part of the wording wasn’t used.” According to the article, “Officials at Gettysburg know that eyes are turning toward the Confederate monuments, and that some people want them removed. In 2017, shortly after the Unite the Right rally, a Pennsylvania academic and novelist, Bill Broun, wrote that while Confederate monuments may have once played a role in bringing the two opposing sides of the Civil War back together, ‘these hunks of marble and granite always possessed another side, too. They valorize and sanitize the horrors of slavery and racism. They also enshrine the notion of the Lost Cause, the debunked fable that the South fought a noble struggle of self-determination. It didn’t. The South fought to defend its sinful addiction to slave labor.’ In a July 2020 story in the Pittsburgh Post-GazetteScott Hancock, a professor of history and Africana studies at Gettysburg College, said of the monuments: ‘The Confederacy in the cultural and spiritual sense actually won the Battle of Gettysburg. They have been successful in rewriting the history of the Civil War, that it wasn’t about slavery.’ The federal government initially dug in. In late June, the Park Service released a statement saying it would not alter or move any monuments inside the park, even when ‘they are deemed inaccurate or incompatible with prevailing present-day values.’ Things changed in August, when the Park Service announced that it would add contextual panels to each of the 11 Confederate state monuments and to the soldiers and sailors monument. A spokesman said discussions about providing such information started after the killing of George Floyd, and that the aim is to give visitors sufficient background to make sense of what they’re seeing. Another goal is to continue the park’s mission of explaining the Civil War more broadly, as it does in the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center. As for timing: a Park Service spokesman told me the panels will begin to be placed ‘in the coming months.’ I asked Hancock if the panels are enough. He said they’re a start, but he hopes for changes that directly reflect the Black experience in America. ‘I’d love to see creative and eye-catching monuments about African-Americans, free and slave, that disrupt the narrative of the Confederate state monuments,’ he says. ‘I emphasize state monuments—for me, the Confederate brigade and regimental markers, while not without their own issues, are not the main problem. The reality is that signs, while an important first step, can’t compete with the majesty and size of many of those state monuments.’ I’ll add three things. Arlington, which has an excellent explainer on its website about the Confederate Memorial, should also put up a contextual panel, though I think the monument eventually will be removed. For the contextualizing process to be fair, it should happen all over the country—including New York City, which has several statues that seem iffy and could use a marker or memorial about one of the Civil War’s most grisly episodes, the Draft Riots of 1863. And Gettysburg’s new panels should provide unvarnished details about the history of each monument. For example, with South Carolina’s monument—which was dedicated on July 2, 1963—it would be helpful to know that one of the dedication speakers was George Wallace, then the arch-segregationist governor of Alabama, who extolled states rights with such fervor that a local reporter wrote, ‘For a brief moment it seemed as though the Civil War might start over all again.’ With the Mississippi monument, there’s more to discuss, because its backers got into a testy disagreement with Park Service historians about what the monument really meant. The project finally got underway in the late 1960s, and De Lue was hired by a governor-appointed commission to do the job. His Mississippi statue shows a fighting man and a fallen comrade during combat on July 2, 1863, at a famous site called the Peach Orchard. They were part of Barksdale’s Mississippi brigade, led by General William Barksdale, who was killed in action. When the monument was being planned, Park Service officials were satisfied with De Lue’s visual concept, though the historian—Thomas J. Harrison again—pointed out that it was inaccurate to show the main figure, who’s swinging a rifle, with a bedroll tied around his chest. (Harrison said soldiers didn’t wear bedrolls while fighting; De Lue thought it looked good and kept it.) The problem was the proposed inscription, written by the Mississippi contingent. Labeled ‘Mississippi July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd 1863,’ it began: ‘On this ground our brave sires fought for their righteous cause; Here, in glory, sleep those who gave to it their lives.’ In October 1970, Harrison sent superintendent Emery a memo about Mississippi’s proposal, spelling out changes he wanted to see. He touched mainly on matters of authenticity—like the bedroll and the precise way a Confederate battle flag draped over the fallen soldier should be attached to its staff. He said ‘Here’ should be cut, since no Mississippi Confederates were buried on the field. And at the end of his list, he took aim at the wording on the base. ‘The inscription approved by the Mississippi Gettysburg Memorial Commission should be revised to eliminate the word ‘righteous’ in the first sentence,’ he wrote, ‘or else we will have to revise American History.’ This drew fire from Ed C. Sturdivant, a member of the memorial commission and a Jackson, Mississippi–based official in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Sturdivant was upset that anyone would suggest cutting a word that conveyed the righteousness of the Southern effort. ‘The words ‘rebellion’ and ‘treason’ have been hurled by emotionally-charged writers and speakers for over 100 years,’ he wrote, ‘but it remains factual that no court of competent jurisdiction has ever made a decision to validate such charges.’ This was another Lost Cause theme: the idea that Confederates were not traitors at all. They were the real patriots, the argument went, because their fight was justified by the Constitution’s states’ rights protections, as spelled out in the Tenth Amendment. The Mississippians got their way. In late 1971, under a new park superintendent, ‘righteous cause’ was approved. It’s on the monument to this day. Why did they prevail? It’s not clear from the documents, but I think it’s fair to wonder if political pressure was applied—Senator James O. Eastland, a staunch segregationist from Mississippi, spoke at the dedication. There’s also a public figure in the background whose involvement is a red flag: Tom P. Brady, an associate justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court. Brady was a still-active white supremacist who had written a notorious book in the 1950s called Black Monday, a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board of Education. In the book and subsequent speeches, he compared Black people to caterpillar-eating chimpanzees, said Black children were genetically unsuited to be in the same schools as whites, and maintained that Blacks should mark the 17th-century arrival of the first slave ship in North America as a ‘Thanksgiving Day.’ ‘And they should set that day aside with some fitting memorial,’ Brady said, ‘because there was conferred upon that segment of the black race the greatest favor that one human being could confer upon another. He was brought from abject ignorance, primitive savagery, and placed in a country that was Christian and civilized.’ When Sturdivant heard from Emery, he showed the letter to Brady, who responded to both of them in a letter that said the South’s cause was indeed a noble one and the monument ought to say so. Defeat in the Civil War ‘did not make the cause less righteous to those who fought and died for it,’ he wrote. ‘The South has had the most to forgive in this matter and the South has forgiven. Let us hope that the North has done likewise.’ The South had the most to forgive? It’s hard to know what that means, but it probably refers to the ravages of the war on cities like Atlanta, or perhaps to the post–Civil War era of what Southerners called radical reconstruction, a relatively brief period when Black people in former Confederate states were allowed to vote and hold office. This backstory is relevant. I believe De Lue was sincere when he said his aim was to mark the loss of fallen soldiers on both sides. But the wording on the Mississippi base politicizes it, and the message is offensive, especially given Brady’s involvement with what unfolded. ‘Righteous’ ought to come off.”

The Jeb Stuart monument (Richmond, VA) being removed by crane on July 7, 2020 (photo by Sanjay Suchak)

This article tells us, “On June 7,  a monument to slave-trader Edward Colston that had stood in Bristol, England for 125 years was toppled by protestors and pushed into the harbor. Four days later, the Bristol City Council dredged up the bronze statue and brought it to an ‘undisclosed, secure location,’ with eventual plans to display it in a museum. The toppling and subsequent retrieval of the Colston monument prompts questions about the value placed on objects versus actions. Why did the object need to be pulled out of the water? Why, after such a clear direct action, did some respond with a sense of loss? These questions prompted me to create the Toppled Monuments Archive — an artist-run digital archive of the documentation of toppled and removed colonialist, imperialist, sexist, racist and Confederate monuments. There has been a sharp increase in the toppling and removing of problematic monuments lately, sparked by widespread Black Lives Matter protests following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and many others. These symbolic objects have been toppled, tossed into rivers, and lit on fire during protests, as part of the historic, anti-racist reckoning currently taking place worldwide. Conversely, municipal and private efforts to prevent the toppling of these statues have accompanied these cathartic symbolic moments. Many cities have physically blocked direct action from taking place by building fences and utilizing police forces to guard monuments. Cities have ordered swift removals of busts and statues, either to prevent protestors from toppling them, to maintain a sense of order, or to gesture hazy solidarity with broader anti-racist movements. Let’s look into this trend of relocating monuments. Much like the Colston statue, the Christopher Columbus monument in Baltimore — which was toppled and rolled into the harbor during widespread July 4th protests — was dredged from the harbor two days later with the efforts of both cranes and divers. These private companies were hired by groups including the Associated Italian American Charities of Maryland. The monument was moved to private storage with the intention to repair it and display it elsewhere. Likewise, in Ventura, CA, the city-planned removal of the St. Junípero Serra statue resulted in its relocation to the San Buenavista Mission, one of the missions founded by the very same sadistic priest. In Dallas, a Robert E. Lee monument removed in 2017 was sold at auction for $1.4 million and moved to a private golf course in 2019. Numerous other monuments have been moved to the gravesites of the person they depict. The monument to Confederate general John Castleman, for example, previously located at Cherokee Triangle in Louisville, Kentucky, has been placed by his grave.”

The article concludes, “We posit toppling not as a destructive act, but rather the preservation and relocation of these monuments as damaging. For example, in reaction to this surge of removals, the members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and the United Daughters of the Confederacy have begun to build new monuments, buying property and land to store and display existing statues. ‘Most people who oppose these monuments in public spaces would prefer to see them relocated to a museum or state archive‘ noted Lecia Brooks, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, in the New York Times. However, preserving these objects in any way actively undoes the work of the activists and abolitionists who have devoted themselves to the larger anti-racist movement. Institutions, museums and cities should reevaluate their priorities and redistribute resources and reparations rather than spending the money on recontextualizing these objects. In an extensive study conducted in 2018 for the Smithsonian and the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute, it was found that between 2008 and 2018, an estimated $40 million of taxpayer money was spent on Confederate monuments, sites, and groups that support racist ideology. These monuments are not only taking up public space, they are costing the public money. Efforts to preserve these monuments and prevent their toppling signal a desire to allow them to continue to exert their power as objects, to uphold the ideas they stand for, and, perhaps most significantly, to communicate that property is more important than people. Let’s leave them at the bottom of rivers and keep them out of our museums. We need to let these objects die, along with the ideologies they represent.”

Hundreds of people gather at the Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Va., in July. The Mellon Foundation says it will spend $250 million over five years to re-imagine commemorative spaces in the U.S.
Eze Amos/Getty Images

This article talks about the Mellon Foundation’s plan to donate millions of dollars to help change the monument landscape. “The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation says the nation’s current monuments offer an “incomplete and even inaccurate” picture of the nation’s diversity and complicated history. So it’s pledging $250 million over five years to change that. ‘Statues are not just bodies in bronze, and monuments are not just stone pillars,’ the foundation’s announcement says. ‘They instruct. They lift up the stories of those who are seen, dominate the stories of those who are unseen, and too often propagate menacingly incomplete accounts of our country’s past.’ The foundation is among the largest funders of arts and humanities in the United States. The new initiative is the largest in its 51-year history, and it will allocate funds to relocate or contextualize monuments and memorials, as well as create new ones. … The long-running debate on whether to remove or keep prominent symbols of the confederacy has reached a new level of urgency. While many cities have removed confederate statues, their removal has also met intense opposition. Some statues have been toppled. Others remain fiercely guarded. The nonprofit won’t itself recommend monuments for removal or rethinking, foundation president Elizabeth Alexander told The New York Times. Instead, it will fund projects that are brought to it. ‘The beauty of monuments as a rubric is, it’s really a way of asking, ‘How do we say who we are? How do we teach our history in public places?’ ‘ Alexander said in an interview with the Times. The project’s first grant will provide funding to an independent public art and research studio called Monument Lab. The Philadelphia-based studio will use the grant to conduct ‘a definitive audit’ the country’s existing monuments.

The Confederate monument outside the Lowndes County Courthouse has been removed.

In this article from Lowndes County, Alabama, we learn, “The Confederate statue that stood outside the Lowndes County Commission is gone. Now the county has opted to pay a fine for it. The Lowndes County Commission voted to remove the 80-year-old statue on June 28. Mike Lewis, spokesman for the Alabama attorney general’s office, said they determined that the removal violated the Memorial Preservation Act. The attorney general’s office states that Lowndes County has agreed to pay a $25,000 civil penalty without a court order. The Lowndes Signal reports that a couple has donated the $25,000 to cover the fine.”

We have this article from Richmond, Virginia, which tells us, “Richmond’s Confederate monuments will have to find new homes after the City Council voted unanimously Monday to keep them down for good, initiating a 30-day period when the city will offer the monuments ‘to museums, historical societies, governments, or military battlefields.’ A majority of the monuments the city aimed to take down were already removed before an injunction barred any further action from taking place last month. The first monument that was removed by the city, the Stonewall Jackson statue, was taken down on July 1, the first day local governments had the authority to remove Confederate monuments. Crews worked quickly to remove several other monuments before the 60-day injunction blocking Mayor Levar Stoney from removing any more was granted: the Matthew Fontaine Maury statueJ.E.B. Stuart statue, Confederate Soldiers and Sailors statue, the cannon sitting atop a pedestal just west of the Arthur Ashe memorial, the cannon near the statue memorializing the President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis and the monuments to Fitzhugh Lee and Joseph Bryan in Monroe Park. The Jeff Davis Monument was toppled by protesters in June. The only city-owned monument left is the General A.P. Hill monument, which is located at the intersection of W. Laburnum Avenue and Hermitage Road. The location of Hill’s remains, underneath his statue, has presented a unique challenge for the city. On Monday, the council approved an ordinance that permanently removes the monuments from the city. Under the new state law that gives Richmond the jurisdiction over its monuments, the city will now offer the monuments ‘for relocation and placement’ to organizations that may house them. Despite the measure, the City Council is not required to accept any offer as the law states that ‘the local governing body shall have sole authority to determine the final disposition of the monument or memorial.’ The Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, which is owned by the state, will remain on its pedestal for at least another 90 days after a judge granted a group of Monument Avenue residents an injunction preventing the state from having it removed.”

CBS Sunday Morning had a pretty good report from Mo Rocca on the monument issue.

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