The Week in Confederate Heritage

Our weekly roundup of the nationwide retreat of confederate heritage, along with a racist backlash against it, continues.

In this article from Arkansas we learn, “The Arkansas House on Thursday overwhelmingly approved a proposal to end a day that commemorates the Confederate flag. The majority-Republican House voted 80-7 for legislation to abolish Confederate Flag Day, which is designated as the Saturday before Easter. The bill now heads to the majority-Republican Senate for a vote. The bill replaces Confederate Flag Day with ‘Arkansas Day,’ which it says is intended to reflect the state’s ‘rich history, national treasures, diverse cultures, unmatched hospitality, shared spirit, and human resilience.’ The top Republican in the House, Rep. Austin McCollum, sponsored the measure and noted Confederate Flag Day was enacted in response to the 1957 desegregation of Little Rock Central High School. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement the measure makes sense to him and he plans to sign it if it reaches his desk. The bill advanced two years after legislation stalled that would have changed the meaning of one of the stars on Arkansas’ flag that represents the Confederacy. A House committee rejected that proposal.”

A woman looks through the fencing around the Robert E. Lee monument on Monument Ave. in Richmond, VA Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021.

According to this article, “More than 50 homeowners who live near the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue say they want the statue taken down immediately in a proposed amicus brief filed for the two cases that will determine the statue’s fate. It’s been more than 10 months since Gov. Ralph Northam ordered the statue’s removal, but two lawsuits are vying to keep it up. A Richmond judge struck down both suits, but the plaintiffs appealed, and the Virginia Supreme Court agreed to hear their appeals, which could take place in June. The brief, filed Monday, claims that the plaintiffs don’t have standing to file a suit, that there are more residents near the statue who want it taken down than want it left up, and that removing the statue doesn’t conflict with historic preservation. Pat McSweeney, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the residents do not have the right to file the brief because of their close interest in the case. ‘They’re way off base, legally and factually,’ he said. The neighbors say 50 of the roughly 55 homeowners who can see the statue from their home support its removal. One resident, Baylor Rice, said every nearby resident he knows wants it gone. He called the removal ‘overdue.’ ‘We all felt the same a year ago,’ he said. But the number of residents who want or don’t want the statue to remain in place isn’t relevant, McSweeney said. At the crux of the case are agreements the state made with landowners in the 1880s and 1890. The state agreed to hold the monument and its surrounding land ‘perpetually sacred.’ McSweeney represents plaintiff Helen Marie Taylor, who lives near the statue, and three others who live nearby. One plaintiff, Evan Morgan Massey, died last month. The other lawsuit was filed by William C. Gregory, who is a descendant of a signatory of a similar agreement in 1890. The brief was filed pro bono by Cultural Heritage Partners, a Richmond-based law firm that specializes in historic preservation of land, architecture and artwork and was co-founded by Greg Werkheiser. The group of neighbors who support the statue’s removal call themselves Circle Neighbors. They argue that the plaintiffs do not have standing to file a suit. Werkheiser said there have been dozens of lawsuits trying to keep Confederate statues up, and none has succeeded. Most were shot down because the court ruled the plaintiff did not have standing. … McSweeney argued that the plaintiffs do have standing because they are enforcing the deeds of their homes, which contained restrictive covenant agreements with the state. The Circle Neighbors claim that far more residents of the neighborhood and the city want the statue removed. A poll conducted by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Christopher Newport University indicated that nearly 80% of city residents support the removal of Confederate statues.

Attorney General Mark Herring has filed a brief with the Supreme Court of Virginia asking for the court to dissolve the injunction blocking the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue along Monument Avenue in Richmond.

Related is this story, in which we find, “Attorney General Mark Herring has filed a brief with the Supreme Court of Virginia asking for the court to dissolve the injunction blocking the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue along Monument Avenue in Richmond. Herring is asking the court to uphold the Richmond Circuit Court’s ruling in Oct. 2020 that said the removal of the statue is lawful. The Richmond Circuit Court judge ‘found that the statue was raised against a backdrop of white supremacy and that it is against public policy to keep it up, but the ruling was stayed pending appeal.’ ‘The Lee statue has held a place of prominence in the capital of Virginia, sending a message of white supremacy and division, for far too long and it is time for it to come down‘ said Herring. ‘The continued obstruction that has so far prohibited the commonwealth from exercising its right to remove state-owned property must stop. I remain committed to ensuring that this stark reminder of a racist past comes down, allowing Virginia to move forward on its journey of healing and reconciliation.’ In the brief, Herring discusses ‘the statue’s prominent role in perpetuating Lost Cause propaganda and promoting racially segregated neighborhoods in Richmond.’ A number of Virginians, advocacy groups, and legal scholars were also expected to file briefs in support of Herring’s efforts. The plaintiffs in the case are arguing that Governor Ralph Northam does not have the authority to remove the statue because it would violate restrictive covenants in deeds that transferred the statue, its pedestal, and the land they sit on to the state. Virginia has budgeted just under $1.1 million for the removal of the statue.”

Statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville (FILE)

Staying in Virginia, we have this article about Charlottesville, which tells us, “Charlottesville’s legal battle over the city’s statues of Confederate Generals Robert E. Lee and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson appears to be at an end. The Supreme Court of Virginia has issued an official mandate, finalizing the opinion it issued earlier in April, siding with the city and clearing the way for the removal of the statues from public parks. Charlottesville had previously stated it was waiting for the court’s mandate to avoid potential future legal issues. The Monument Fund and allies, which fought against the removal of the statues, did not file a petition for a rehearing by the 21-day deadline. ‘Earlier this week we received the Supreme Court’s mandate and very soon the Charlottesville City Council will issue a public notice of its intentions regarding the statues,’ City Spokesperson Brian Wheeler said in a statement. ‘City staff will discuss the next steps with City Council at its May 3, 2021 meeting, and we anticipate Council will reaffirm its intentions through the General Assembly’s new statutory process.’ The court sided with Charlottesville in an opinion issued April 1, reversing a decision from Charlottesville Circuit Court. The commonwealth’s high court ruled unanimously that the state law that forbade localities from tampering with or removing war memorials never applied to Charlottesville in the first place. ‘For reasons stated in writing and filed with the record, the court is of opinion that there is error in the judgment from which the appeal was filed,’ the mandate reads. ‘Accordingly, the judgment and orders of the circuit court, and all forms of relief granted by the circuit court Also from Virginia is this articleto the plaintiffs, are reversed and vacated, and final judgment is entered for the appellants. This order shall be certified to the said circuit court.’ A decision in Virginia’s Supreme Court can be appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. It is unlikely that the appeal would be taken up, because there is no federal law in dispute in the case.”

Also from Virginia is this article. It says, “A Virginia high school was rededicated in honor of the late Rep. John Lewis, replacing the name of a Confederate general to celebrate a civil rights icon. The Fairfax County Public Schools campus in Springfield is now John R. Lewis High School after a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday. Senior Kim Boateng said she was embarrassed to say her school’s previous name: The school was originally named for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. ‘Our old name did not define who we were as a school,’ Boateng said. Boateng wants students to be proud of their diverse community. The high school reported a student body composed of over 85% minority students during the 2019-20 school year. ‘It was about trying to honor what it means to be a civil rights leader, what it means to stand for the rights of different people, for voting rights for people of all different colors,’ Boateng said. The school opened in 1958 and was named during the burgeoning civil rights movement and just four years after the Brown vs. Board of Education decision that integrated public schools across the United StatesNBC Washington reported. The school’s athletic teams have always been known as the Lancers, lacking the Confederate iconography used by other Northern Virginia public schools. Sports teams will play on as the Lewis Lancers.”

The artist resurrects the Confederate flag of truce with “Monumental Cloth: The Flag We Should Know.”CARLOS AVENDAÑO

According to this article, “Baby onesies and oven mitts. Shower curtains and tube tops. Toilet seats, Christmas ornaments, fidget spinners, and men’s bikini briefs. That’s a small sampling of the hundreds of everyday objects emblazoned with the Confederate Battle Flag and readily available via Amazon, Walmart, and who knows how many other e-commerce sites. I know because they’re listed floor-to-ceiling on the wall at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum, the product of some dumbfounding research by Sonya Clark, whose two solo exhibitions opened here earlier this month. They’re just words, but so, so many words, printed in no-nonsense typewriter-standard font. The text is a deep blood-crimson; Clark didn’t pick it to evoke the flag’s violent history — not to mention its violent present, with Jan. 6 still fresh in most minds— though it’s hard to see it any other way. No, the color is the stroke that completes the picture. It’s from the Benjamin Moore paint company’s color charts, a long-available shade called ‘Confederate red.’ On the store’s color swatches, it sat right between ‘raspberry truffle’ and ‘cherry wine’ until far too recently, when the company finally renamed it, for better though more likely worse. The color is now called ‘patriot red.’ That’s the thing about symbols that stick around for ages — repeated, commodified, and diluted of real meaning, time can have a sanitizing effect. (Though not always: When I spoke to Clark, she mused on whether Benjamin Moore had entertained ‘Nazi red’ as a designer shade.) For the Confederate Battle Flag — a symbol of Southern sedition in the Civil War, and an emblem of bondage — its second act as gift-shop tchotchke represents willful ignorance at best. Clark titled her shopping list of battle flag merch, a standalone piece, ‘Propaganda.’ Ignorance, willful or not, is the foundational theme of ‘Monumental Cloth: The Flag We Should Know,’ one of Clark’s two exhibitions here. They serve as something of a victory lap for the artist, who last summer was awarded the deCordova’s $35,000 Rappaport Prize. Clark, a professor of art at nearby Amherst College, has made a career of untangling American history to reveal darkness often veiled by pageantry, a practice that brought her close to the battle flag before. ‘Unraveling,’ from 2015, was an audience engagement project where the flag was pulled apart in the gallery, thread by thread, to represent the slow work of undoing deep-rooted racism. ‘Monumental Cloth’ is less a disassembling than a resurrection, a righting of historical symbolism interred by time and will. In her research on the battle flag, Clark learned it won its aesthetic mantle over another: The Confederate Flag of Truce, offered by Robert E. Lee to Union Army general Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Va., in 1865. The truce flag was a simple, ragged dishcloth — a lowly symbol of defeat, the Confederacy’s end. That alone suggests much about its fade into history, and why the Southern Cross, a talisman for unending defiance, loomed ever larger. As it became insidious in consumer culture, the battle flag was slowly sanitized as a symbol of ‘southern heritage,’ to the blithe exclusion of the enduring cruelty that took place under its banner.”

This article from Florida tells us, “According to the New York Times, the Florida senate recently passed a bill that would make “willfully and maliciously” pulling down a memorial a second-degree felony. In essence, what this means is that in Florida, there will be harsher punishments for any theoretical protestor or demonstrator who damages property, and this includes the state’s copious Confederate monuments. Now, if you took down a Confederate monument in Florida, you could be facing up to 15 years in prison. Additionally, according to the Times, the bill makes it easier for anyone who, say, injures protestors with their car to skirt civil liability. ‘This legislation strikes the appropriate balance of safeguarding every Floridian’s constitutional right to peacefully assemble, while ensuring that those who hide behind peaceful protest to cause violence in our communities will be punished,’ the Florida governor’s office said in a statement. ‘Further, this legislation ensures that no community in the state engages in defunding of their police.’ ” That of course, is a bald-faced lie. The racists in charge of Florida today think it’s worse to take a confederate monument down than it is to maim or kill someone with a car because they are protesting racism. The KKK is running Florida.

The article continues, “Florida’s harsher crackdowns on anyone who’d dare to remove a Confederate monument are reminiscent of moves being made lately in Britain, where cultural leaders are being instructed to ‘retain and explain‘ problematic monuments instead of taking them down. Additionally, the U.K. government has also threatened to cut funding from museums or institutions that took down problematic, colonialist or otherwise objectionable statuary.”

As this article from Marshall, Texas tells us, “Marshall City Council members did not pass a revisited resolution concerning reparations for slavery. The resolution, aimed to institute some form of reparations for slavery in Marshall, was pulled by City Council on April 8, for unknown reasons. The resolution presented by Council Member Marvin Bonner cites a long history of slavery in Marshall. The goal of the resolution was to put proposals into motion that would officially declare the institution of slavery to be a crime against humanity while also ‘passing a reparations ordinance,’ in Marshall. Other sections would have brought education regarding Marshall’s history of slavery, preserve slave records, and allow for the removal of a confederate statue in Downtown Marshall at the Harrison County Courthouse. Before the vote, Bonner said, ‘We as council members, we have a chance to give some closure to this issue that has been long overdue and I believe that most of the residents in Marshall agree with passing this. So hopefully we can and we can start building a better Marshall, a better city.’ The resolution died (4-3) after a motion to amend it failed with no motion following.”

According to this article, “An Atlanta school that had been named after a Confederate general will soon be renamed after Braves legend and Hall of Famer Henry Louis ‘Hank’ Aaron. The Atlanta Board of Education unanimously voted last week to approve the renaming of Forrest Hill Academy to Hank Aaron New Beginnings Academy. The change will take effect next school year. Forrest Hills Academy was named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader, according to CNN affiliate WSB. Aaron, who was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982 following an illustrious MLB career highlighted by 755 home runs, died in January at age 86. He famously broke Babe Ruth’s longstanding home run record on April 8, 1974, hitting his 715th homer at home in Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. As he was chasing Ruth’s record, Aaron was taunted daily at ballparks, received threats on his life and was sent thousands of pieces of racist hate mail. He said he didn’t read most of the mail but kept some as a reminder. ‘Names do matter,’ Board Chair Jason Esteves said ahead of the vote to change the school’s name. Board member Michelle Olympiadis echoed Esteves. ‘It is very important that we understand our history,’ she said during the meeting. ‘It’s very important that we understand where we are coming from.’ By approving the name change, the board agreed to waive certain provisions of a policy requiring someone to be dead for at least five years to have a facility named after them. There are also talks in the community about asking the state to change the street name — Forrest Hills Drive — where the school is located, Vice Chair Eshe Collins said during the meeting. This isn’t the first Atlanta school to get a name change. Last year, the Atlanta Board of Education approved renaming Grady High School to Midtown High School, and Joseph E. Brown Middle School was renamed to Herman J. Russell West End Academy, according to WSB. Grady High School was named after Henry Grady, a journalist considered a racist and White supremacist. Brown Middle School was named after Joseph E. Brown, Georgia’s governor during the Civil War who opposed slavery’s abolition, according to the affiliate. In recent years, city councils and school districts nationwide have renamed buildings and removed monuments dedicated to Confederate leaders who fought to preserve slavery and White supremacy in America. In September of 2020, the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) identified more than 240 schools across the country that bear the name of a Confederate leader. More than 30 schools in the US have been renamed since 2014 in order to eliminate any link to Confederacy, according to the EJI.”

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