“It would be “wiser…not to keep open the sores of war,” said the former Confederate general Robert E. Lee in 1869, “but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.” Lee wrote those remarks as he rejected an invitation to enshrine Confederate memorials for fallen soldiers.”
” the erstwhile general may finally be getting his wish. In the wake of protests across the country, set in motion after a Minneapolis cop killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, numerous communities have seen a reinvigorated push to remove local homages to Confederate soldiers—the likes of which amount to little more than grand participation trophies that celebrate the most racially fraught time in U.S. history
There’s a rich irony to the fact that Lee, who recognized the ill-conceived nature of the idea, would become the unwitting mascot for those who support those memorials.”
“Supporters of Confederate monuments often argue that the stone exaltations preserve heritage. Memorials inherently celebrate a particular time and place—it’s right there in the name. But what good does it do if the heritage preserved and celebrated is an inherently racist one?
The bulk of these Confederate memorials were erected between 1900-1930 during the era of Jim Crow, long after the Civil War’s conclusion. Behind their enshrinement was the very same racial animus that the country is currently attempting to grapple with. The 1924 reception for Lee’s statue provides an adequate anecdote. As I’ve written previously:
Over in Charlottesville, the Ku Klux Klan commemorated the May 21 unveiling of Lee’s statue with a public cross burning on May 16 and a two-hour parade on May 18 attended by “thousands,” according to archives from The Daily Progress, the Charlottesville newspaper that’s been publishing since 1892. The throngs of people “equaled those usually seen here to witness the parade of the large circuses,” the paper wrote. “The march of the white-robed figures was impressive, and directed attention to the presence of the organization in the community.”
That wasn’t the exception but rather the rule. In Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the industrialist Julian Carr introduced the now-toppled Silent Sam statue in 1913 with a speech on the merits of preserving white supremacy. “One hundred yards from where we stand,” he noted, “less than 90 days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds.” New Orleans’ 1911 celebration of the monument of Confederate President Jefferson Davis—a fierce defender of slavery—had a Stars and Bars formation singing “Dixie” at a ‘Whites Only’ ceremony. The list goes on.”…
“that heritage incontrovertibly hinges on a legacy of slavery and racial terrorism, whether some like to admit it or not. Those who fought for the Confederacy should never be forgotten—but put them in a museum, keep them in the history books, and so on. Don’t give them a reception fit only for history’s best heroes.”