Trump on tearing down Confederate statues: Is George Washington next?

Brunilde Fioravanti
Agosto 22, 2017

Statues were erected and the Confederacy became a symbol to many - not of states' rights to shatter the Union or proceed with the slave trade, but simply of states rights writ large. His transformation - at the centre of the recent violence in Charlottesville, Virginia - reflects the changing moods in the United States around race, mythology and national reconciliation.

Lee monuments and the many schools named for him now face renewed scrutiny in a demographically changing nation. In retrospect, it is hardly surprising that the removal of the Lee statue provoked those who want the U.S. to be what it was for most of its history: a place where whites openly dominate. Why are there memorials in his honour in the first place?

When tensions heated around southern secession, he was offered a post to lead the anti-slavery Union forces against the pro-slavery South. Lee declined, citing his reservations about fighting against his home state of Virginia and resigned from the US Army. It was erected in 1924, almost 60 years after the Civil War ended with Lee's surrender at Appomattox, just over 60 miles south of Charlottesville.

Political scientists say he had a "mixed record" of military endeavours throughout the civil war, and he was famously defeated at Gettysburg by Union Major General George Meade. "They won the battle over the peace".

Lee had inherited a few slaves from his mother and married into one of the wealthiest slave-holding families in Virginia. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson's coming down.

Lee, claimed one of the speakers, "abhorred slavery".

There was no space for black memories of emancipation in the south's public spaces.

Many Americans have given little thought to the details or meaning of the Civil War, and rather identify Lee, Jackson or Confederate president Jefferson Davis as the most famous and successful men ever to emerge from the South. It also tried to argue that the war was not about slavery but high constitutional ideals. We remember Jefferson the slave master; but we also remember the Declaration of Independence, the University of Virginia, a role in our national history that is not reducible to his slaveholding.

As The Lost Cause grew in popularity, proponents pushed to memorialise Lee - and monuments went up in the 1920s just as the Ku Klux Klan experienced a resurgence, and laws mandating segregation were adopted. After Charlottesville voted for the removal of the statue earlier this year, white nationalist leaders had protested against the decision multiple times.

Lee is one of the most frequent figures to be memorialised in statues, aside from the common soldier. "He was no hero in their eyes", Alexander said. "I want to make sure, unlike most politicians, that what I said was correct and not make a quick statement". "The South showed it would shed blood", Horne said. The removals partly were based on violent acts committed by white supremacists using Confederate imagery and historians questioning the legitimacy of The Lost Cause. It can't be, because Confederate statues represent a separate country just as well as a statue of King George III or Queen Elizabeth II would represent in an American city today. If you can't honor Robert E. Lee there, you can't honor him anywhere.

The Lee statue in Charlottesville was erected in 1924, but the city council chose to remove it from Emancipation Park (after also renaming the park), noting to many the statues are "painful reminders of the violence and injustice of slavery and other harms of white supremacy that are best removed from public spaces".

The current protests go back to a mass shooting incident in 2015, involving a self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof who gunned down at least nine African-Americans in South Carolina's Charleston. And this is why understanding the meaning of a statue to Robert E. Lee is critical to understanding this modern surge in American antisemitism.

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