A City Covers Robert E. Lee and Mourns Heather Heyer

This afternoon the city of Charlottesville placed a black tarp over the Robert E. Lee monument in Emancipation Park to honor Heather Heyer. Heather was murdered by white nationalists who rallied to protest the city’s decision to remove the Lee monument. The decision to drape the monument in black was taken after a contentious city council meeting on Tuesday night.

Photo Credit: Steve Helber/AP

During the Civil War families draped their windows, balconies, and doors with black bunting as a sign of their mourning of a loved one who perished in the war. In the wake of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination entire cities were draped in black as as a sign of their collective mourning.

This is a wonderful example of how a monument can be transformed in place. It may prove to be a much more powerful statement about how a community now views the memory of Robert E. Lee compared to removing or relocating the monument.

It may also help to bring a community together at a time of deep grief and point the way forward.

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21 comments… add one
  • James Simcoe Aug 24, 2017 @ 17:41

    Remember Dre Harris and Tyler Magill who were seriously wounded and are now CrowdFunding to cover their medical expenses!

  • Fred Smith Aug 24, 2017 @ 7:08

    I just learned about your blog today and appreciate that you’re addressing a very sensitive contemporary (and historical) issue. I was in Charlottesville just a few days before the Lee sculpture was covered and things were surreal, juxtaposed with the recent images we saw on TV and elsewhere. The Jackson sculpture didn’t seem to be drawing any attention during my visit. On a related topic, I’ve also noted some very large Confederate battle flags being flown along roads/interstates in the South…is this a new phenomenon? Please keep up this important work – I’m doing something similar: http://www.thewaryouknow.com

    • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2017 @ 7:29

      In Virginia the flags have gone up in the last 5-7 years. A group called the Virginia Flaggers is largely responsible for those in Virginia and it reflects gradual retreat of the Lost Cause narrative of the war. The Jackson monument in Charlottesville is more isolated compared with the Lee monument, but both have been covered.

  • John Heiser Aug 24, 2017 @ 4:24

    Hey Kevin, thanks for the update but you should probably take a closer look at your statement that Heather Heyer “was murdered by white nationalists” when the evidence so far is that it was the act of a lone irrational member of a white nationalist group who attended the rally. No evidence has yet surfaced that it was a conspiracy or others of that group were involved. -John

    • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2017 @ 4:33

      Hi John,

      I didn’t suggest that there was a conspiracy. These people showed up with automatic weapons on Saturday. On Friday night there is no doubt that the march on UVA was intended to cause violence. I stand by my characterization of Heyer’s death.

      Not sure what this means: “lone irrational member of a white nationalist group”.

      • Boyd Aug 24, 2017 @ 5:11

        There are rational members of white nationalist groups?

        • carroll aldridge Aug 24, 2017 @ 6:41

          I suspect, (there is no way I can prove this) — that most Americans are not interested in any white national groups, neo-anything or whatever. Americans as a whole do not care for violence per-say and wish everybody would behave themselves. Now as for activists, news junkies, certain academic groups, media & politicians running for office – (aren’t they always), this may not be the case. They have their reasons. Research, marketing, personal in search of truth, justice & the America way.

          Since this nation was founded thousands of monuments have been erected for no end of reasons by all sorts of groups, private, public, individual etc. celebrating, commemorating whatever & whenever for good, infamous, boring anniversaries –some important, most long forgotten. These markers/monuments may have been put up for a specific reason or not but at some point they are viewed by most as “just there” — until….

          Monuments are mostly just Public Art…and possibly the public is not interested in art as one might believe. Beauty to the beholder, (forget eye).

          Lincoln emancipated the slaves in ’63. Good political move & clever. Still the conflict was half over by then. Naturally he had his reasons…..

          So what about reconciliation — to restore, etc.? Such a hot topic these days. Just push that “reconciliation button” & see what responses pop up. I suspect the act of reconciliation will be an ongoing, never ending obligation or project, (take your pick), until our Republic draws it’s last breath.

          To me, (I can only speak for myself), What other people in other countries do is their business. I still think the American experience is unique. Jim Crow laws are gone now. Slavery is gone. These monuments may be tainted with these experiences but such is history, fragments of our imperfect past littering the landscape. Like a warrior, a vet, a soldier who knows where his every-scar is & how it got there. To tear down these monuments, (any of them)is sacrilege. To do so removes & hides a bit of American History.

          Morality is a manmade term whether civilized or not. The passage of time could care less what mankind thinks, believes. As men & women will all have our prejudices. To believe otherwise is to delude ourselves & others.

          This is a flawed nation. The Declaration of Independence
          did not include the slave & most of color. They were omitted. Jefferson may have been concerned but it was an economic factor as well others. If slavery existed today would not some individuals own slaves? Yes of course if it were legal would not some members our society exercise their right? Would not certain corporations desire, cheap or free labor? If the races were reversed & blacks could obtain White servants would it not happen?

          Hopefully we will never have to deal with that again.

          As for now, whoever has the most media attention, most fearful politicians on their side & the most powerful argument will prevail.

          • Msb Aug 24, 2017 @ 11:44

            As you would have seen from Kevin’s earlier posts, your argument would mean that there should still be swastikas on public buildings in Germany, statues of Stalin all over Eastern Europe, and statues of Sadat in Iraq. (Because they’re history in those countries.) I don’t buy it. I think the people who have to live with monuments should be able to decide whether they want to keep doing so.

            • Msb Aug 24, 2017 @ 11:45

              Oops, “Saddam in Iraq.”. Darned autocorrect …

            • carroll aldridge Aug 24, 2017 @ 12:07

              First thing…It’s how I feel, not an argument. Also I believe the American experience is unique. I do not compare Lee & Jackson to Stalin & Hitler. Finally I am not really concerned with how other countries handle their affairs. Why should I be? Mr. Levin has his opinions, I respect them. However I have mine also. You have yours to I assume? Remember it’s a melting pot.

    • Joshism Aug 24, 2017 @ 19:01

      “the act of a lone irrational member of a white nationalist group”

      All members of white nationalist groups are irrational.

  • Walt Stawicki Aug 23, 2017 @ 20:29


    Seattle has already decided Lenin must leave Fremont.

    • Joshism Aug 24, 2017 @ 18:59

      “Seattle has already decided Lenin must leave Fremont.”

      …why is there a statue of Vladimir Lenin in Seattle?

  • Meg Groeling Aug 23, 2017 @ 13:31

    508 Resource Limit is Reached is what I get when I try to repost to my FB page. What is this?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 23, 2017 @ 14:15

      Hi Meg, I am having the same problem. Not sure what’s going on. The traffic to this site over the past week has cause all kinds of havoc. Will keep working on it.

      • Andy Hall Aug 23, 2017 @ 16:17

        You’re just too popular, Kevin. Just admit it. 😉

  • James Harrigan Aug 23, 2017 @ 12:26

    I live in Charlottesville, and I think covering the statues in black is a brilliant move politically, artistically, and symbolically. I can’t wait to get a look at this on my way home from work today.

    The statues need to be removed sooner rather than later, but this will do in the interim.

  • MSB Aug 23, 2017 @ 12:03

    Good for Charlottesville. Thanks especially for the photo.
    Shouldn’t the second sentence say that the “white nationalists rallied in opposition” to the city’s decision (I.e. In “defense” of the statue)?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 23, 2017 @ 12:06

      I just caught that. Thanks.

      • carroll aldridge Aug 24, 2017 @ 3:36

        Obviously you were leaning a bit to make your points regarding comments to Jimmy Barrett. At least that’s how it sounded thru my radio…however radio is rather jealous with it’s time.. You mentioned “National debate”… At times , (at least on college campus’s) resembles hysteria. Ok maybe too strong a word….but debate? Still like those statues on Monument Ave,. though…and just how does Maury’s piece glorify the Lost Cause etc. It is the most non-assuming monument there. Good to hear you on WRVA…cheers.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 24, 2017 @ 4:31

          Hi Carroll,

          Glad to hear that someone caught the interview. I stand by that reference. Certainly, there are plenty of examples of public forums, etc. getting out of hand, but overall I am pleased with what I have seen and heard.

          I am planning to write an op-ed about Maury. Most people don’t know anything about him, but Maury was one of the architects of national policy pushed by southerners in the federal government to expand slavery into other part of the western hemisphere. Many of Maury’s scientific endeavors were bound up in this broader project.

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