Workers this week were expected to remove the towering Confederate Memorial from Arlington National Cemetery, displacing one of the country's most prominent monuments to the Confederacy on public land.
The removal of the monument, criticized for its sanitized depiction of slavery, from the country's most famous cemetery is part of a military effort to remove Confederate symbols from its bases, ships and other facilities. Dozens of Republican lawmakers opposed removing the monument.
A security fence was installed around the monument over the weekend, and the towering bronze statue will be removed at the end of the week, a cemetery spokeswoman said, the last such monument to be dismantled since the public backlash in 2020. against Confederate statues after the murder of George Floyd.
That movement helped prompt Congress to establish the Commission on Appointments in 2021. It was created to devise a plan to rid the military of its statues and monuments commemorating the Confederacy.
The Department of Defense ordered that the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery be removed by January 1, 2024.
It will be stored until its fate is determined, the cemetery spokeswoman said.
More than 40 Republican members of Congress signed a letter last week asking Lloyd Austin, the defense secretary, to stop the impeachment. They argued that the monument, funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected in 1914, did not commemorate the Confederate States, but rather “reconciliation and national unity” between the North and South.
The monument, they wrote, was commissioned by the government to honor the country's “shared reconciliation following its troubled divisions” and complemented an earlier gesture in which Confederate remains were relocated to the national cemetery.
But for others, including members of the Commission on Nominations, the intricate images and inscriptions etched into the bronze venerate the narrative of the Lost Cause, a myth that portrays the Confederate rebellion as a noble defense of Southern values and paints slavery as something benign.
The monument features a woman representing the American South standing on a 32-foot pedestal, according to the cemetery. Near the base are dozens of life-sized Confederate soldiers alongside mythical gods and two enslaved African Americans.
One is a “mom” holding the son of a Confederate officer and the other is a man “following his owner to war,” according to the cemetery description.
“It is the clearest example of a declaration of a lost cause in a public space in the form of a monument,” said Kevin M. Levin, a Civil War historian who often gives tours of the cemetery. “Most Confederate monuments are large equestrian monuments that honor a specific person.”
“I think what the United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted to see in Arlington was an unapologetic vindication of the Confederacy,” she added, referring to the organization of Southern women who raised money for the monument.
Since 2020, hundreds of Confederate monuments have been renamed or removed from state and municipal lands. One of those monuments, a statue of Robert E. Lee riding a horse, was torn down two years ago in Charlottesville, Virginia.
This year, it was melted down to be reused as public art.
For Jalane Schmidt, a professor at the University of Virginia who helped lead the campaign to melt that statue, said the argument for removing the Confederate Memorial in Arlington is the same as for any other.
Monuments on public lands, he said, “must tell a story that includes everyone and aligns with our democratic values.”
The cemetery will continue to include monuments to the Confederates, in the form of hundreds of graves of fallen soldiers and the Civil War Tomb of the Unknowns, which is believed to contain remains of combatants from both the North and the South.
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