The Week in Confederate Heritage

Crews work to remove one of the country’s largest remaining monuments to the Confederacy, a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue, Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Richmond. (Steve Helber/AP)

Racist supporters of confederate monuments are pinning their hopes on the Virginia Supreme Court reconsidering its ruling on the Lee monument removal. This article tells us, “Four property owners filed a request Wednesday with the high court for a rehearing, alleging the justices made ‘several fundamental errors’ in their Sept. 2 decision, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. The unanimous ruling observed that ‘values change and public policy changes too’ in a democracy. The court cited testimony from historians who said the enormous statue was erected in 1890 to honor the southern white citizenry’s defense of a pre-Civil War life that depended on slavery and the subjugation of Black people. Restoring the monument would be ideal for the plaintiffs, but lawyer Patrick M. McSweeney said his clients ‘don’t think the state owns and controls the monument.’ The state wants to keep the monument and land while disavowing promises made to obtain them. ‘Such a result allows the Commonwealth to take property without compensation,’ the petition states.”

While not about a confederate monument, this article gives us an example of what can be done after removing a monument. “California will replace a former statue on state capitol grounds honoring a Spanish missionary with one celebrating Sacramento-area Native American tribes. Erected more than 50 years ago, the statue of Father Junipero Serra was forcefully toppled by racial justice protesters in July 2020 and has been in storage since. The legislation, which officially removes the statue of Serra, was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, at a virtual ceremony attended by Native American leaders from throughout the state. ‘We don’t condone the violence and the tearing down of statues that are there,’ said Democratic Assemblyman James Ramos, who authored the bill. ‘However, there’s built-up frustration. For years, California Indian people have been talking about the mission system.’ Ramos, the first California-born Native American elected to the legislature, said his grades suffered when he objected to building a replica mission in fourth grade — a former requirement and long-time tradition for California public school students. By establishing the first nine of California’s 21 Spanish missions in 1700s, Serra is viewed by many as one of the founding fathers of California. He’s widely celebrated by the Catholic Church and, despite objections from Native Americans, he was canonized by Pope Francis in 2015.”

The article continues, “His defenders say Serra fought to protect Native people from Spanish soldiers and other forces. ‘The Indian people became the laborers that would build those missions. And when some tried to leave, they were brought back many times forcefully,’ Ramos said. He said credible reports detail the shackling of Native people at California missions. The bill sparked some passionate debate within the legislature with opponents arguing Serra didn’t enslave Native people and that shackles were used for public safety. The bill was one of six signed by Newsom supporting the state’s first residents. Another bill authored by Ramos and signed by Newsom removes Columbus Day as a judicial holiday and replaces it with California Native American Day in September.”

Concluding, we learn, “The new monument won’t go up right away. The bill calls for trial leaders to work with the California Department of General Services ‘to plan, construct, and maintain a monument to the California Native people of the Sacramento, California, region on the grounds of the State Capitol.’ The Legislative Joint Rules Committee and Department of Finance would also have to sign off on a plan to privately fund the construction of the monument. Ramos said he hopes the bill represents a pendulum swing toward ‘true education of what has happened to the California Indian people with the voice of the California Indian people.’ Ramos says he now has his eye on changing how school children learn about Native people.”

If California school children learn the truth about how their state treated Natives, in the words of Republican legislatures, they will be made “uncomfortable.”

This article tells us how the bigoted Failed President is using the Lee monument to appeal to his racist base. “Trump instinctively understood the undercurrent of racist violence that was electrified when he ‘took off the gloves’ and he used it to great effect, spending hours on the campaign trail repeating lurid details of alleged deviant criminality by immigrants and insisting that torture works, gleefully promising to do more of it with descriptive detail. One of his greatest hits was endorsing an apocryphal story about General Blackjack Pershing dipping bullets in pig’s blood before he summarily executed Muslim prisoners in the first World War. His campaign was drenched in violent rhetoric and yet somehow the fact that he had read the polls and determined that the ‘forever wars’ were unpopular — and unwittingly appropriated the isolationist slogan of the pre-WWII era, ‘American First’ — he got a reputation as some kind of anti-war pacifist. Recall that New York Times writer Maureen Dowd even characterized him as ‘Donald the Dove’ in one notorious column. His followers, of course, never believed it. Trump was a bloodthirsty leader, and they knew one when they saw one. He was just going to wage his war at home — and that suited them just fine. … For all his chillingly inane bluster, he clearly didn’t have a firm grip on national security and foreign policy, consistently falling back on stale bromides about trade and antagonizing allies he knew were no threat while kissing up to tyrants and dictators. He constantly fought with his military advisers, seeing them as ‘losers’ who didn’t know how to win wars, but never really had the nerve to do what he always threatened to do which was unleash the full might of the U.S. military. (Thank God!)”

The article tells us, “Now that he is out of office, ensconced in temporary exile at one of his resort palaces, anticipating his full return to campaigning, he is busily re-writing the story of his presidency to fit the current facts. Early in the process he took credit for negotiating the withdrawal with the Taliban and insisted that Biden was dragging his feet. In April, he said, ‘Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1st, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible.’ He boasted two months later, ‘I started the process. All the troops are coming back home. They couldn’t stop the process.’ Then during the chaotic final days in Kabul last month, he frantically shifted his posture. … On the occasion of the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from the capital of Virginia, he managed to thread together his grotesquely racist impulses, his embarrassing ignorance of history and his incompetent national security and foreign policy leadership all in one stunningly stupid statement: ‘Robert E. Lee is considered by many Generals to be the greatest strategist of them all. President Lincoln wanted him to command the North, in which case the war would have been over in one day. Robert E. Lee instead chose the other side because of his great love of Virginia, and except for Gettysburg, would have won the war … If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don’t have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!’ That is the very stable genius who has the entire Republican party on its knees begging for his favor. I don’t know if Spencer Ackerman is correct to say that the War on Terror ‘produced’ Donald Trump. But it certainly did rouse some of the violent, lizard brain racism and ignorance that’s never very far from the surface of our culture. And nobody in this country better personifies that violent, lizard brain racism and ignorance than Donald Trump.”

Staying with The Failure, This article tells us, “CNN’s Jim Acosta suggested that Donald Trump identifies with Gen. Robert E. Lee because they’re both ‘losers.’ Acosta made the comment during an interview with Trump’s niece, Mary Trump, on Sunday evening. He noted that the former president had decried the recent removal of the Lee statue in Richmond, Virginia—one of the country’s most notable monuments related to the Confederacy that Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam ordered to be removed following nationwide protests over the death of George Floyd last summer. When the statue came down last week, Donald Trump issued a statement claiming: ‘Our culture is being destroyed’ and praising Lee as ‘the greatest strategist of them all.’ He also claimed the war in Afghanistan would have ended in ‘a complete and total victory many years ago’ if Lee has been leading troops.”

The article also says, ” ‘Where do you start? It’s just baffling in its brainlessness and just craziness,’ Acosta said, after reading part of the statement. ‘And it’s dangerousness because people listen to him and, shockingly, as you say, 63 percent of Republicans want him to be leader of their party,’ Mary Trump added. She continued: ‘He seems to forget the fact that for four years, he was commander-in-chief and did nothing but weaken our position in Afghanistan, first of all. ‘Secondly, he clearly knows absolutely nothing about American history. Robert E. Lee was very far from being a brilliant general. And beside which, Robert E. Lee was a traitor to this country who was directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans which sounds very familiar so maybe that’s why Donald identifies with him so much.’ At this point, Acosta suggested that: ‘Maybe he identifies with the fact that he’s a loser.’ Acosta said: ‘He lost. Trump lost. They’re both losers.’ “

Finally, we consider this article, telling us, “Last summer, statues were seemingly coming down left and right. After the police murder of George Floyd sparked widespreads protests against racial injustice and police brutality, communities across the United States rallied to reevaluate—and, often, remove—the racist, misleading art decorating their public spaces. Some works were quietly disassembled by authorities with cranes and construction gear. Others were thrown into the sea or yanked from their pedestals by protesters. Since May 2020, the Toppled Monuments Archive has cataloged 84 such removals of ‘colonialist, imperialist, racist and sexist monuments’ in North America; the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Whose Heritage? Project, meanwhile, states that a record-breaking 168 Confederate symbols—including statues, institution names and plaques—were taken down in 2020. But what about the public works that remain? According to Monument Lab, an art history and social justice nonprofit based in Philadelphia, an estimated 99.4 percent of American monuments were not toppled or taken down in 2020 and 2021. In other words, Monument Lab director Paul Farber tells Smithsonian magazine, ‘for every [removed] monument that’s in the spotlight, … scores more are still there as the old, worn furniture of a city or town.’ Unsurprisingly, the statues still standing overwhelmingly honor white, male historical figures.”

The article also tells us, “To view the nation’s commemorative landscape from a bird’s eye perspective, Farber and colleagues Laurie Allen and Sue Mobley led a team of 30 researchers in a year-long project to catalog as many American monuments as possible. As Zachary Small reports for the New York Timesthe survey—published this week as a 42-page audit and an open-source, searchable database—is the first of its kind. Funded by the Mellon Foundation’s $250 million Monuments Project, the analysis charts 48,178 statues, plaques, parks and obelisks across public spaces in every state and U.S. territory. The researchers parsed data from 42 publicly available sources, including state, tribal and federal records; National Park Service databases; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Save Outdoor Sculpture! survey, which was conducted between 1990 and 1995 and, until now, constituted the nation’s largest source of monument-related data. ‘We did a lot of streamlining of data, bringing in biographical information and really pulling things together from scattered, decentralized sources,’ says Farber. The resulting data set allows scholars to ‘lift up the hood on the mechanisms of memory,’ he adds. ‘We want to understand what gets remembered and what gets forgotten.’ “

This Stonewall Jackson statue, which once stood along Richmond’s Monument Avenue, was taken down in summer 2020. Paul Joseph via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 2.0

We further read, “The team’s findings throw into sharp relief what many have long suspected to be the case: America’s monuments overwhelmingly honor white men. Of the top 50 most-represented individuals, only 5 are Black or Indigenous: civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (4th); abolitionist and Underground Railroad ‘conductor’ Harriet Tubman (24th); Shawnee chief Tecumseh (25th), who led Native American resistance to colonialism; Lemhi Shoshone explorer Sacagawea (28th); and abolitionist and writer Frederick Douglass (29th). (No U.S.-born Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander or self-identified LGBTQ people appear in the top 50, per the audit.) Half of the top 50 were enslavers, among them many U.S. presidents. Abraham Lincoln came in first place, appearing 193 times in the sample (a testament to his enduring popularity in the 20th century). He was followed closely by George Washington (2nd) and Christopher Columbus (3rd). ‘The audit shows just how many Americans don’t see themselves reflected in public art,’ Erin Thompson, a historian at John Jay College, CUNY, and author of a forthcoming book titled Smashing Statuestells National Geographic’s Andrew Lawler. ‘Monuments are supposed to inspire us all, so what does it mean when our monuments make it seem like only wealthy white men are deserving of honor?’ Monument Lab’s top 50 includes just three women: Joan of Arc (18th), Tubman and Sacagawea. Outside of the top 50, the most frequently honored women are often European (such as scientist Marie Curie), saints (such as Catholic leader Elizabeth Ann Seton) or both (Joan of Arc).”

The article continues, “Likenesses of female figures often represent mythological or allegorical symbols rather than actual people. This pattern made headlines in August 2020, when a statue of Sojourner Truth, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton became the first work to depict real women in New York City’s Central Park in its 167-year-history. (Previously, the park’s only statues of women portrayed fictional figures such as Mother Goose and Alice in Wonderland.) As the audit wryly adds, the survey found that the ratio of statues depicting mermaids to those of U.S. congresswomen is 22 mermaids to 2 lawmakers. Acts of violence figure heavily in the nation’s monuments. Thirty-three percent of the studied works commemorate war. Comparatively, just a sliver—9 percent—reference veterans. ‘[O]ur monuments generally minimize the social and environmental costs of warfare for our veterans, their families and our communities,’ the audit’s authors write. Crucially, the myth of the ‘Lost Cause‘ pervades the monument landscape. (Touted by white supremacists, this ahistorical ideology suggests the Civil War was fought over states’ rights rather than slavery.) Of the 5,917 recorded monuments that memorialize the Civil War, just one percent include the word ‘slavery.’ This trend is the direct result of coordinated campaigns by neo-Confederate groups to erect monuments to Confederate leaders during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when the civil rights movement was gathering steam. Commemorative works commissioned by such organizations as the United Daughters of the Confederacy paid ‘homage to a slave-owning society and [served] as blunt assertions of dominance over’ Black Americans, as Brian Palmer and Seth Freed Wessler wrote for Smithsonian magazine in 2018.”

According to the article, “Indigenous and Native American communities are also widely misrepresented in U.S. monuments. Of 916 works dedicated to ‘pioneers,’ just 15 percent mention Native American communities in any capacity. Viewed in the aggregate, these markers represent ‘gross distortions over time,’ with certain historical events skewed in the service of white colonists, according to Farber. The scale of historical misinformation and racist exclusion laid bare by the data may be overwhelming. But Farber argues that ‘America’s monuments have never been frozen in time, beyond contact or reproach.’ Early colonists demonstrated this on July 9, 1776, when they toppled a statue of England’s George III—the first such removal recorded in the young nation’s history. The spate of monument removals seen in the past year is nothing new. On one of the final days of edits for the audit, Farber witnessed another monument’s removal up close. Page proofs in hand, he stood with a crowd of hundreds gathered to see an equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee taken down in Richmond, Virginia.”

It concludes, “City workers carefully lifted the 21-foot-tall statue off its pedestal and cut the Confederate general’s torso from his body. As crowds cheered, the crew loaded the disassembled sections onto truck beds before driving them to an undisclosed storage unit. Farber celebrates changes such as these. But he’s also eagerly looking forward to the monuments that artists have yet to design and install. As Farber noted in a recent conversation with Mellon Foundation director Elizabeth Alexander, the audit’s authors hope their research provides a tool for the next generation of scholars, artists and activists to create new public spaces and symbols of their own. ‘We really want to see this country engage in a holistic reckoning, in big and small ways, with these monumental erasers and lies,’ Farber tells Smithsonian. ‘We want to see a landscape that more fully acknowledges the history of this country.’ “

4 comments

  1. Robert F. Davenport Jr · · Reply

    ” “CNN’s Jim Acosta suggested that Donald Trump identifies with Gen. Robert E. Lee because they’re both ‘losers.’ ” I think Mr. Acosta’s disgust with President Trump clouds his thinking. The quote is a response motivated by that disgust.

    I would argue that Trump’s ego will lead him to pursue the presidency again in 2024. He is not stupid so he realizes that he needs a strong base for that run (his ego also hides the reality that he will lose in any case). His base identifies with Gen Lee so Mr. Trump must do so. Lee lost but is I think not a loser. Other descriptions are probably more accurate for Trump.

    I fear that Democratic leadership might foul things so badly that Trump may have a chance. I see little chance that Republicans will nominate anyone else.

    1. Never rely on a journalist for accurate history. Those who give you accurate history exist, but they are the exception rather than the rule.
      I have a hard time describing someone who mused about injecting bleach into people and talking about airports during the Revolutionary War as “not stupid.”

  2. Nancy Abbott · · Reply

    This is such an amazing post,Al the amazing amount of facts covering so much territory is really mind blowing! Thanks for posting this article and all the others.
    Nancy

    1. I’m very glad you enjoyed it, Nancy.

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