On Memorial Day weekend, the History Channel aired a 3 part biopic series on Ulysses S. Grant, the winning general in the American Civil War and two-term president during Reconstruction after the war.
Who could have known that a Minneapolis Police officer would murder a black man, George Floyd, on Memorial Day, sparking a new civil rights movement with a renewed interest in America’s unfinished Civil War and its ugly legacy.
Andrew O’Hehir, executive editor of Salon, in a piece a few years ago recounted Grant’s view of the war which was accurately portrayed in the History Channel’s biopic of Grant. The Confederate mystique: White America’s toxic romance with a criminal regime (excerpt):
When it comes to the legacy of the Confederacy — the bizarre, doomed pseudo-republic that continues to hold a mystical allure for way too many white Americans, 150-plus years after its destruction — Grant’s moral vision was clear enough. He saw the slaveholding aristocracy that drove the South into secession as an indefensible criminal regime, rooted in treason and an immoral economy where human beings were “bought and sold like cattle.”
Grant understood, earlier and more clearly than Abraham Lincoln did, that slavery was the fundamental cause of the Civil War, and also that the war had created a historic opportunity to extend American citizenship to people of all races for the first time. He told Otto von Bismarck later that he had perceived the slave-owning South as “an enemy with whom we could not make a peace. We had to destroy him. No convention, no treaty was possible. Only destruction.”
[T]he great military hero of the Civil War and the 18th president of the United States — who waged and won a bloody war to save the Union and then tried to redeem it through Reconstruction — saw that flag that now adorns so many front porches, so many dorm rooms, so many rear windows of Silverado pickups, [as] a symbol of “the stupendous crime of treason.”
159 years too late, “The U.S. Marine Corps on Friday issued detailed directives about removing and banning public displays of the Confederate battle flag at Marine installations — an order that extended to such items as mugs, posters and bumper stickers.” U.S. Marine Corps Issues Ban on Confederate Battle Flags:
“Current events are a stark reminder that it is not enough for us to remove symbols that cause division — rather, we also must strive to eliminate division itself,” the commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. David H. Berger, said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Marine Corps said in a statement on Twitter that the Confederate battle flag had “all too often been co-opted by violent extremists and racist groups whose divisive beliefs have no place in our Corps.”
“This presents a threat to our core values, unit cohesion, security, and good order and discipline,” the statement said. “This must be addressed.”
In the wake of news that the Marine Corps is banning Confederate paraphernalia from its installations, the Army says it does not plan to rename its bases and facilities that were long ago named after Confederate leaders. The Army doesn’t plan on renaming 10 installations named for Confederate leaders.
It should be noted that these bases were named during a period of pseudo-historical revision to justify the South’s treason that has come to be known as the “Cult of the Lost Cause.”
“As military historian Army Maj. Mark Herbert wrote in 2017, the first wave of new installations named after Confederate leaders emerged after the U.S. entered World War I.” The Army’s defense of its position, “that the naming of installations and streets was done in a spirit of reconciliation,” does not hold water. Congress can order the name change.
The Times continues:
In several states, anger has given way to the damaging or defacing of more than a dozen symbols of the Confederacy.
The mayor of Birmingham, Ala., this week ordered the removal of a contentious Confederate statue from a public park a day after dozens demonstrated against it.
Gov. Ralph Northam of Virginia said this week he planned to order the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond to be removed.
The Richmond City Council unanimously pledged to take down the Confederate statues towering above Monument Avenue as well. It’s unanimous: All nine Richmond City Council members back removal of Confederate monuments on Monument Avenue:
Eight days of unrest that have changed Richmond had spurred yet another surprise: a united front of city leaders on a long-divisive issue that many have been loath to act on — until now.
The consensus all but guarantees the four locally controlled Confederate statues on Monument Avenue will come down, along with that depicting Gen. Robert E. Lee; Gov. Ralph Northam on Thursday ordered the state-owned Lee statue removed “as soon as possible.”
Protesters spray painted the pedestals of each of the statues, which were added to Monument Avenue between 1890 and 1929. Declaring the monuments symbols of white supremacy, protesters have called on city leaders to take them down.
The statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.
UPDATE: A small group of demonstrators toppled the statue of Gen. Williams Carter Wickham from its pedestal in Monroe Park, in Richmond Saturday night. Protesters topple Confederate statue in Richmond. In 2017, some of Wickham’s descendants urged the city to remove the statue.
Francis Wilkinson in an op-ed at Bloomberg writes, As Monuments to Racism Fall, Trump’s Culture War Falters (excerpt):
If you want to know who’s winning the battle being waged on the streets of America, look at who’s being beaten up. It’s not just peaceful protesters … Statues are getting roughed up, too, and their travails may be even more telling. Because while it takes but an instant to crack the head of a protester of racism, it can take a century or more to bring down a monument to racism. Yet they are coming down.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam said last week that the statue of Robert E. Lee that “towers over homes, businesses and everyone who lives in Richmond” will be removed “as soon as possible.”
In Birmingham, Alabama, Mayor Randall Woodfin used the nationwide protests as an opportunity to remove the city’s 52-foot Confederate Soldiers & Sailors Monument despite a law passed by the Republican legislature expressly designed to safeguard racist iconography from the ravages of public opinion. The statue’s removal, which took place on the state holiday marking the birth of Jefferson Davis, prompted Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall to sue the city. Sue away: The statue is not coming back.
The Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Birmingham, Ala., seen here in 2016, has been the subject of legal controversy in recent years. – Jay Reeves/AP
In addition to Alabama and Virginia, Confederate monuments were defaced or removed in Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee.
It’s not hard to figure out why last week suddenly turned into a giant dustbin for Confederate granite. Just as millions of Americans are invested in the lie of the noble “Lost Cause,” millions are invested in a proximate lie: that racism is a figment of a brutalized people’s collective imagination. Some 22% of Americans believe that blacks face little or no discrimination, a figure that rises to 39% among Republicans. Reactionary and resentful politics work to transform that self-deception into laws such as Alabama’s monument preservation act, which ensures that public spaces feature icons of racial dominance and subjugation.
When acts of racist brutality, such as the killing of George Floyd, break through the national cacophony, they expose the lie as both absurd and corrupt. In that moment of collective recognition, racial reactionaries retreat, and the ground on which racist monuments stand quakes.
* * *
There is a symbiosis between images of police officers battering anti-racism protesters and those of anti-racism protesters pummeling statues of racists. Police, a largely Trumpian constituency whose aggression Trump has encouraged, are lashing out as the white nationalist cultural terrain of MAGA recedes.
The contest isn’t over, of course, and may persist in various manifestations for years to come. But with each protest march, and every discarded Confederate, the direction of the battle is becoming more clear. Future Americans will be spared the labor of uprooting a granite Donald J. Trump from a tainted plinth. It won’t be necessary. There will be no monuments to tear down.
A descendent of General Robert E. Lee, Robert W. Lee IV, pastor of Unifour Church and author of the book “A Sin by Any Other Name: Reckoning With Racism and the Heritage of the South,” in an op-ed at the Washington Post writes, Robert E. Lee is my ancestor. Take down his statue, and let his cause be lost.
In the small town where I live and grew up, the Lost Cause of the Confederacy didn’t need a special name — it was the education we all received. We were taught that during the Civil War, the Confederate States of America had just motive. Perhaps you’ve heard the mantra: “The Civil War was fought for states’ rights.” It was enshrined in monuments across the country after the war ended.
The catch is that there’s more to that sentence, something we southerners are never taught: The Civil War was fought for states’ rights to enslave African people in the United States of America.
Many of us were never taught the rest of the sentence and are forced to discover it for ourselves, but my reality is unique amid the landscape of southern identity. My name is Robert W. Lee: I’m a Christian pastor, a husband, a friend, a son, a brother. But you undoubtedly realize that I bear the name of the icon of the Southern understanding of the world, and I also bear his heritage.
As a descendant of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s family, I have borne the weight and responsibility of that lineage. Even though my parents never pushed it or subscribed to all that it could entail, my own upbringing oozed with Southern pride. I had a black nanny — even in the 1990s — and a Confederate flag that hung in my bedroom until middle school. I believed that in commanding the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee was a Christian man with the best of intentions.
But today I am proud to be part of a new era for the South and the country. And on Thursday, I was present with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax (D) as they announced the intent of the commonwealth to remove the iconic statue of Lee on Richmond’s Monument Avenue.
I am fully aware that the broken, racist system we have built on the Lost Cause is far larger than a single statue, but the statue of my ancestor has stood for years in Richmond as an idol of this white supremacist mind-set. The statue is a hollow reminder of a painful ideology and acts of oppression against black people. Taking it down will provide new opportunities for conversations, relationships and policy change.
Many of my fellow Southerners are afraid that if we remove Confederate monuments, we will forget the legacy of Lee and our Southern heritage. If we are honest with ourselves, many of those fears are anxiety about a shifting way of life, a loss of a certain understanding.
Others of us have worked for generations to escape the scorn my family — and the Lost Cause mythology — has brought on upon the nation. And for many of us, removing the statue of Lee was a culmination of years of work. For me, this symbolic gesture stands at the start of a new way of life in the South, a new cause that could replace the Lost Cause mentality if we get this right.
The new cause of this country is about justice, equality, peace and concord. We can and must be different. Now is the time to make this new cause the hope of this upcoming generation of activists. We can give the gift of Southern hospitality and community instead of passing on a pseudo-historical and oppressive understanding of the world.
To rest when symbols of oppression fall is to have only done a portion of the work. I have often lain awake at night wondering if I did the right thing in criticizing my uncle, or in supporting the statue’s removal, or in trying to move past the Lost Cause. I doubted — as all white people do — that this was my battle to fight. But even if that doubt was momentary, it shows that I have more work to do. We must begin anew each morning to redeem the world and atone for the past.
The work continues, and the new cause begins.
This should renew the debate here in Arizona regarding the the six Confederate monuments in Arizona, which Gov. Doug Ducey refused to back the removal of in 2017. If Virginia can remove the statues of revered Confederate generals from Monument Avenue – something I never imagined that I would see in my lifetime – then surely Arizona can rid itself of its “Cult of the Lost Cause” monuments given by the Daughters of the Confederacy.