This has been a fascinating couple of weeks in the world of Civil War memory. After removing the Liberty Place monument on April 24 the city of New Orleans removed three additional monuments to Jefferson Davis (May 11) and P.G.T. Beauregard (May 16-17). Yesterday Robert E. Lee was removed from high atop his perch in full daylight.
It’s too early to assess its significance in terms of its impact on debates in other communities across the country, but what we can say is that we have witnessed the serious crack in the Lost Cause and the most dramatic change to a major city’s Civil War commemorative landscape to date. Yesterday to mark the Lee Monument’s removal the Atlantic published my essay on why this particular monument is the most important. In short, compared to the other three Lee is a national icon, which makes his fall from grace the loudest.
Again, it is too early to tell what the impact may be, but in a piece I published in Smithsonian magazine on Thursday, I offer some reasons why Richmond, Virginia may dodge the kinds of sustained calls for removal heard in other cities. We shall see.
One final comment. Just to clarify, I am not an activist for the removal of Confederate or any other monuments. I have spoken passionately about Confederate monuments and their connections to white supremacy and Jim Crow and I will continue to do so, but I firmly believe that these decisions ought to be made by each community. After all, it was communities that chose to erect them.
That said, my thinking on this issue has evolved since the summer of 2015 and I have used this blog to explore my ideas as well as those of others. We are in uncharted territory and the subject deserves serious thought and even a willingness to take risks. I’ve done my best to add my voice and hopefully help others sift through their own ideas. As an educator that is all I can hope for.