Confederate Monuments Still Stand…For Now

By now most of you have seen the photographs of the damage/tagging done to Confederate monuments throughout the country in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. In addition to monuments, the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond also sustained serious damage.

This should come as no surprise.

J.E.B. Stuart Monument in Richmond, Virginia

Confederate monuments both celebrate a failed attempt to establish an independent slaveholding republic and the achievement of legalized segregation and white supremacy by the turn of the twentieth century.  Already the city of Birmingham, Alabama has moved its Confederate monument from Linn Park after protesters attempted to bring it down themselves.

I have little doubt that we will see another wave of monument removals over the next few months. Cities to pay attention to include Charlottesville and Richmond.

As historians it is tempting to want to add our voices to the mix and do what we do best, which is to provide historical context. That said, I am very much aware that my particular skill set may not be needed to lead this public conversation about what happens with these monuments. First, it is difficult to imagine that anything new can be said in this ongoing debate since 2015.

The protesters that have damaged & tagged these monuments are making a statement about the long history of racial justice in this country. They don’t need a history lesson. In their view Confederate monuments no longer represent the collective values of their respective communities. In many places, they never did.

As public historians and educators we would do well to listen. We should help our communities to better understand the relevant history when appropriate. Historian Karen Cox has already weighed in with a helpful op-ed about that places this renewed focus on monuments in broader context. At the same time we would do well to remember that we do not hold the key to whether these monuments should remain or be removed.

These are questions that transcend historical analysis. What we are witnessing is the result of a lived history that has been ignored, mythologized, and suppressed for far too long. This needs to be allowed to play out. There will be plenty of opportunity to make sense of it all later.

About the author: Thank you for taking the time to read this post. What next? Scroll down and join the discussion in the comments section. Looking for more Civil War content? You can follow me on Twitter. Check out my forthcoming book, Searching For Black Confederates: The Civil War’s Most Persistent Myth, which is the first book-length analysis of the black Confederate myth ever published. Pre-order your copy today.

101 comments… add one
  • Andersonh1 Jun 2, 2020 @ 3:40

    Good to see the Lincoln memorial and the Shaw 54th Memorial in Boston “tagged” and “reinterpreted” as well. It’s all up for grabs now. The mob will have their say.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 3:44

      Turns out you can clean graffiti, but it is much more difficult to solve the underlying problems that give rise to it. Glad to see that you are focused on what really matters.

      • Biff Jun 11, 2020 @ 2:28

        Just shows the lack of education by those that are tagging the monuments that they should be realizing supports there cause. Funny that you have no posts concerning the racism of George McClellan. He was pro slavery. Yet, his monuments go untouched wherever they stand. Support for his monuments and other racists of the North makes one a complicit racist. Hey, because of the lack of education in this country you get to pick and choose what people think is racist (THEY ALL WERE RACISTS in that era of history) HEYYY LOOK AT MEEEE I’M NOT RACIST. I don’t obsess over seeing people as groups or based on skin color like your “team” does, but do you want to guess which demographic I see the least attempting to learn at a battlefield? Yes, you’re correct. Told you multiple times before that they’re coming for everything in the parks and museums. Then you’ll be sorry for paying politics online.The day is coming. And you enabled them.You’ll also be crucified as a racist for something especially stupid. The day is coming. Your liberal woke cronies will turn on you. Maybe that day comes when they realize McClellan was actually for slavery? Oh, the irony. You think you’re hot stuff preventing debate w/ the block button. I’ll laugh when they turn on you.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 12, 2020 @ 2:21

          First, I think you need to do some reading about George McClellan. Describing him as “pro slavery” is a bit of a stretch. He certainly sought to avoid placing emancipation on the table as a wartime goal for the United States.

          Perhaps you can organize your friends to educate the demonstrators and direct them toward the nearest McClellan statue. Best of luck with that.

          • New England Jon Jun 12, 2020 @ 3:35

            George McClellan brought me here. It’s been a long and winding road. A road that passed through the Civil War Monitor and Dimitri Rotov’s blog.

            I recently picked up a study of General Sheridan called Little Phil. If one were an iconoclast, I think that his statues would be a more worthy target than McClellan’s; given his exploits out west.

            I’m in southern New England and here the big controversy is over Christopher Columbus statues. I’m no expert on the Spanish exploration and conquest of the Americas but Cortez strikes me more of a blackguard than Columbus. Anyways, the statue of Columbus in New London was a bone of contention between two Italian American groups almost a century ado. There were some Mussolini fans who liked it and some anarchists who hated it. I found that out a year ago when the local paper profiles a book on the New London anarchists. It reminded me of Charlottesville 2017.

  • Beverly Ronald Cameron Jun 2, 2020 @ 4:56

    Perhaps the public discussion should also include whether to continue providing generous tax exemptions to the UDC? UDC’s HQ property in Richmond receives a real estate tax exemption with a current annual value of $47,868 per City Assessor records.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 5:22

      Good point.

    • Nathan Towne Jun 2, 2020 @ 7:45

      I just looked it up.

      The United Daughters of the Confederacy is a 501(c)(3), meaning that it is a publicly funded, non-profit, institution. All 501(c)(3)’s are exempt from State and local property tax. As long as they meet the criteria for satisfying 501(c)(3) status, they should be treated as any other. Anything less, would be, I think, overt viewpoint discrimination and a violation of the freedom of speech of its members.

      • Andy Hall Jun 7, 2020 @ 10:56

        The UDC has been careful not to run afoul of the rules regarding their 501(c)(3) status, and has tried to soldier on without drawing too much attention to themselves. This has provoked the ire and ridicule of more militant “heritage” groups, who long since abandoned any pretense of staying out of partisan politics. It’s especially a problem when those groups are raising lots of money, mostly from individual donors, with no particular rules or transparency in place. Some of them seem to be, from an outside observer’s standpoint, pretty brazen in their corruption. The UDC’s narrative may not be serving the public interest, but they’re not the real offenders who warrant closer public scrutiny.

  • David R McCallister Jun 2, 2020 @ 5:44

    Kevin, Are you seriously condoning and excusing the arson of the UDC library and the vandalism to the Monument Avenue statues in Richmond? And, the Linn Park removal despite the Alabama Supreme Court ruling?
    Please clarify.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 6:28

      Hi David,

      At no point did I condone any damage done to the Richmond monuments and UDC headquarters. I certainly understand why it was done and why it will likely continue. Hope that helps.

  • Nathan Towne Jun 2, 2020 @ 5:58

    Yeah.

    As I have stated many times before, the optimal situation would be removal and relocation to museums, so that these monuments will be available to future generations of civil rights historians and the like. I don’t know how it is going to all play out, though.

    As for the conclusion that we should allow things to just “play out,” I simply cannot agree. Destruction and desecration of historical monuments is not something which it is acceptable for us to accept. In my view, that applies regardless of the cause to which they celebrate. This applied after the fall of Soviet communism. This applied after the collapse of Nazi Germany. Destruction and vandalization is an anti-intellectual position to come to. I am aware of the argument, advanced by Martin Luther King, for example, that such activity, like rioting and vandalism, is simply the “language of the unheard,” implying that we should, as Americans, stand by and permit it to happen. On this, regardless of his heroism and greatness, I think that that position is indefensible.

    As students of history, we have a responsibility to make sure that we preserve that which has been integral to the course of American history for future generations. To sit back and accept that future generations of students, enthusiasts and historians will not be able to have access, in an appropriate setting, to access and interpret these monuments, if possible, is a grave mistake, driven by emotion, not by principle.

    So, Kevin, I respectfully disagree with your conclusion on this.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 6:27

      Hi Nathan,

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. The question of whether monuments in public spaces should be removed is not simply about the preservation of history. They are parts of our lived experience. They are intended to function to unite the community around a set of shared values. The question is what should happen when they no longer do that and when they serve to divide us further. Whether they should be protected or preserved in some fashion falls on a list of priorities. Who is the “us” in your comment? That “us” includes people who find these monuments to be offensive. Their anger is being directed at these monuments because of what they represent.

      I am not advocating for the destruction of monuments. What I am acknowledging is that the tagging/contextualization/damaging is part of the life of monuments. They are targets because they are political.

      • Nathan Towne Jun 2, 2020 @ 7:34

        Hi Kevin,

        I hope that you are doing well.

        I fully recognize the explosive nature of the monuments, at least in the sense of understanding historical context and I am very sympathetic to the position in favor of removal from public spaces, through the legal process, at the local level. When I say “we” should not approve of desecration, I meant it in the context of anyone with interest in American history, cursory or otherwise. It could probably more generally refer to Americans at large.

        In your post, after describing the desecration/destruction, (I can not accept the use of the term “reinterpretation” as it pertains to vandalism) you noted that “This needs to be allowed to play out.” I read that to mean that you are either taking a position in support of the vandalism/destruction, or you are, at least, taking a position indifferent to it, as an objective educator. Now, I anticipate that you will respond by saying that it is not your place to judge, but rather only to provide communities with insight and context that will help them “better understand the relevant history when appropriate.” I find this a difficult conclusion to accept, on the basis that if desecration of monuments which symbolize something/someone with whom you support, or identify with, such as a monument to a great civil rights leader, were to be vandalized, that you would take the position that “This needs to be allowed to play out.” I find it difficult to believe that you would take that position. Would you say that the vandalism of a monument to Martin Luther King, even if deeply unpopular in the locality which it was erected, is simply “part of the life of monuments” and that it is something no one should hold a position on because it is only being targeted due to it “being political.” I find it hard to believe that you would take that position. The point isn’t to equate the two in terms of what they stand for, it is simply to highlight that what you are presenting as a position of neutrality, seems to not be one which is actually neutral. In that case, I think that you would certainly condone the vandalism, or destruction.

        Therefore, I think that my reading of your take on this is a fair one to reach. I would even say that it strikes me as a leaning towards an acceptance, or approval of the vandalism and destruction.

        My position is, as follows:

        -I am not neutral when it comes to removal. I would support removal of a monument to a Confederate officer, or political leaders, provided that it was commemorating their service to the Confederacy, as compared to service in the U.S. military or in the U.S. government. I would oppose removal of a monument to someone like Martin Luther King.

        -In both cases, I oppose vandalism and destruction.

        For the reasons stated above, I am reading your position as being the same as mine with regards to removal, but different with regards to vandalism.

        It is based on that reading of your position, that I must express my disagreement, for the reasons which I have stated above.

        Nathan Towne

        • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 8:18

          What I am suggesting is that historians may not be needed to decide what happens with these monuments. The issues at stake are much larger than historical explanation. Monuments to civil rights leaders have been vandalized in the past. Again, there is nothing unusual about this. In my travels through parts of Europe I am struck by the extent of the graffiti/damage that can be found on many monuments.

          I think the perpetrators of these incidents should be held to the law and communities are in their rights to take steps to protect local monuments. Part of the problem is that many states in the south have prevented local communities from taking steps to remove specific monuments. That was certainly the case in Virginia.

          But to be completely honest, right now given all the problems this country is facing I am not too concerned about what is happening to these monuments.

          • Nathan Towne Jun 2, 2020 @ 9:43

            I admit that I am not especially privy as to what you are referring to regarding Virginia. I would be interested to take a look at it. Maybe, you could provide me with some sources on that?

            I appreciate your concern about current events. Like you, I am, of course, also quite concerned, probably for many of the same reasons which I would suspect that you are, as well for others which may be different than what you are concerned about.

            Either way, I hope that you and your family have been able to stay healthy through this.

            Lastly, while not necessarily relevant to the issue at hand, I have seen on here that you are selling autographed copies of Searching for Black Confederates. If possible, I would love to purchase a copy. I have not been able to peruse a copy, as of yet.

            • Andy Hall Jun 2, 2020 @ 11:18

              The legislatures in multiple states have passed laws in recent years that prohibit local governments from altering or removing Confederate monuments that are located on their own property. It is an open usurpation of the authority and role that local county and city governments have held for decades. There have been numerous lawsuits and court fights over these laws, with mixed results,

              Virginia had such a law, that was fought out in the courts over monuments in several cities. The Commonwealth recently changed the previous law, giving local communities back the authority they have traditionally held.

              • Nathan Towne Jun 2, 2020 @ 14:25

                Interesting.

                Whether such constitutes usurpation would depend on the structure of the State’s Constitution, I would think, as such would not be prohibited to the States under the Federal Constitution.

          • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 10:13

            Under Republican control communities in Virginia were legally prevented from making decisions about their monuments. The Democrats have changed this.

            I would love to send you a copy of my book. You can find information about how to order a personalized copy here.

    • Andy Hall Jun 2, 2020 @ 7:07

      I am aware of the argument, advanced by Martin Luther King, for example, that such activity, like rioting and vandalism, is simply the “language of the unheard,” implying that we should, as Americans, stand by and permit it to happen. On this, regardless of his heroism and greatness, I think that that position is indefensible.

      I’ve never read King’s comment as suggesting we turn a blind eye to rioting and vandalism. Rather he meant that the rest of us need to understand where that rage comes from, and do something to correct those injustices.

      • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 7:10

        Exactly.

      • Erick Hare Jun 2, 2020 @ 18:27

        In the same remarks MLK said riots are socially destructive and self-defeating. Also in February of 1968 MLK said “Everytime riots develop it helps George Wallace.” Which ultimately helped Nixon and the GOP win over the Democrats and Dixiecrats who opposed the GOP in that election.

        On a side note as a result of the protests where I live the Confederate monument in the town square is being moved to a private park in August. While I am glad it is being moved from the center of town one of my concerns is there is nuance in historical memory and preservation lost sometimes in these movements.

        In cases such as Longstreet who ended up fighting against white supremacists after the war and in the case of the statue here apparently the former Confederate commemorated later became a strong advocate for the education of freedmen in the South after the war. How do we make sure those sorts of redemptive stories aren’t lost to short-sighted rage in the moment?

        • Buck Buchanan Jun 4, 2020 @ 5:47

          In cases like that an interpretive market at that site would be appropriate explaining those facts. Same should happen if the statues stay extant.

          • Kevin Levin Jun 4, 2020 @ 7:27

            Interpretive were never a solution to this problem.

          • Msb Jun 5, 2020 @ 11:08

            One could call the graffiti “interpretive marking”.

          • Andy Hall Jun 6, 2020 @ 8:00

            Placing additional “contextual” interpretive material at sites with Confederate monuments has long been suggested and considered as a sort of middle ground approach. But that has also been adamantly opposed by the “heritage” activists, who insist that there must be no change or alteration at all. They have consistently rejected any idea of compromise, and so have set the stage for the monuments’ removal altogether.

      • Nathan Towne Jun 13, 2020 @ 4:46

        Yeah, I was not saying that King encouraged or supported rioting and looting, rather than such a perspective leans towards apathy in a way in which is dangerous, or problematic.

    • Msb Jun 2, 2020 @ 12:08

      “ Destruction and desecration of historical monuments is not something which it is acceptable for us to accept. In my view, that applies regardless of the cause to which they celebrate. This applied after the fall of Soviet communism. This applied after the collapse of Nazi Germany.”
      To make sure I understand your argument, are you saying that Germany should still be covered with Nazi swastikas and eagles? Former Warsaw-Pact countries with statues of Stalin? Iraq with statues of Saddam Hussein? If that is your argument, why would it be wrong of any of the people’s concerned (particularly any population groups who had not been allowed to express an opinion about the acceptability of such monuments when they were erected) to change their minds about what symbols they wish to celebrate in their public spaces?

      • Nathan Towne Jun 2, 2020 @ 14:21

        Hey,

        No, that is not the argument, at all. After the collapse of Nazi Germany, enormous troves of internal documents were uncovered and were archived by the Allies for posterity. Many symbols were destroyed, as is common in wartime, but a fair amount was preserved, as well. It is housed in museums across the world. We are all beneficiaries of that.

        The optimal situation would be removal and (longer-term) relocation to museums.

        • Msb Jun 2, 2020 @ 23:27

          Thanks for clarifying. But removing statues, etc., particularly if they go to museums, cemeteries or battlefields, does not cause any loss of knowledge.

          • Nathan Towne Jun 3, 2020 @ 6:57

            Absolutely. Removal and relocation to something akin to a museum setting is the optimal outcome.

          • hank clark Jun 8, 2020 @ 5:50

            does it result in knowledge gain? my view is they are large relics, some of which may be interesting but seldom historically useful.

            what is the relevance or usefulness of relics such as forrest’s sword, lincoln’s death bed and the table on which jackson’s arm was amputated? do these get re-interpreted every generation?

            what interpretation is there in these bronze monuments? ‘it should be left to future historians’ is a usual reply.

            • Kevin Levin Jun 8, 2020 @ 5:53

              There is a entire field of history devoted to material culture. These relics offer a deep well of insights that can help us to better understand a wide range of questions.

              • hank clark Jun 8, 2020 @ 14:57

                i somewhat understand, but when you’ve seen 1 lee statue, how many more does one need ?

    • Joshism Jun 4, 2020 @ 16:07

      “the argument, advanced by Martin Luther King, for example, that such activity, like rioting and vandalism, is simply the ‘language of the unheard,'”

      Graffiti, theft, and wanton property destruction is the language of children throwing temper tantrums and bored teenagers.

  • Connie Chastain Jun 2, 2020 @ 7:57

    Kevin, your views, typified by,”Confederate monuments both celebrate a failed attempt to establish an independent slaveholding republic…blah blah blah” — sound so old and stale. You said that last year. And the year before that. And they year before that. Back who knows how far.

    For you to look at what’s happening in the country today and consider it business-as-usual — the removal of Confederate reminders of racism and slavery– is both sad and funny..

    America has moved on. The antifa-thug-view of the USA’s past is to reject it all. Not just the Confederacy. That’s just a slice of what they want gone. They no longer want just white supremacy gone. They want “white” gone. “White” period.

    So, yes, there will be more monument removals … and museums, libraries and historic buildings that will be removed by fire — along with stores, offices, homes, schools and churches.

    It has taken a long time for the Antifa mentality to take hold in the USA, but now that it has, there will be no purging it. But when you were teaching left-leaners to hate Confederate artifacts and to destroy them at the first opportunity, you didn’t know that they saw no good reason for separating them from the USA and planned the same future (or lack thereof) for both.

    Heritage folks tried to get the word out. “It’s not just about Confederate flags.” We knew the mission of erasure would eventually include the whole of the USA but your community wouldn’t listen. Well, now, the target has expanded and cities are on fire. And you can’t conceptualize that things have changed.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 8:10

      Hi Connie,

      Good to hear from you. It’s been quite a long time. I hope you are doing well.

    • Muhammad E. Lee Jun 3, 2020 @ 20:03

      I came here just for this and these Connie tears did not disappoint.

      • Kevin Levin Jun 4, 2020 @ 1:18

        Connie never disappoints in moments like this. 🙂

        • Buck Buchanan Jun 4, 2020 @ 5:50

          I just burst out laughing in public at this!

      • Phil Jun 7, 2020 @ 3:11

        Delicious tears!

    • Jimmy Dick Jun 7, 2020 @ 6:52

      Glad to see you are secure in your racism, Connie. Some things never change. You are a constant source of amusement.

  • Tom Pitcher Jun 2, 2020 @ 10:07

    I’ve come full circle on monuments. They represent what we choose to remember & what we choose to value – and most of the time, years after and for a purpose related to the immediate context.”These Honored Dead” by Desjardin is a great read on just how far folks will go for a plaque in the earth. I think people confuse removing monuments as a means of erasing history – when in fact its just another part of that history. Case in point: Two tombstones in the Houston National Cemetery were recently brought to America’s attention because they contained swastikas and the inscription “he died far from his home for the Fuhrer, people and fatherland”. The grave-site was for WWII POWs. Is removing those soldiers and sending their bodies back to their hometowns removing history? Or does the push to do this NOW speak to a new history (a positive one) being written about our attitudes towards antisemitism.

    • hank clark Jun 3, 2020 @ 5:03

      the gravestones bearing swastikas is the same issue in microcosm.

      veterans families object to the symbols being part of the cemetery ‘community’ and want them removed; government entities hide behind red tape and misplaced legal interpretations.

      in this case there is no real constituency backing the status quo, yet.

      • Ken Noe Jun 5, 2020 @ 0:48

        And VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, who led the defense of the swastika-bearing headstones, until fairly recently was an active member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans–a fact he obfuscated in his Senate confirmation.

  • Terry Klima Jun 2, 2020 @ 10:27

    It should come as no surprise? It should come as no surprise that individuals no longer respect the property rights of others? It should come as no surprise that individuals engage in arson, set buildings on fire, burn historical artifacts and destroy libraries?

    Candidly, I am surprised that societal norms have become so debased that some think this behavior is acceptable. Anarchy and terrorism will never resolve societal issues; rather, it will lead to further division.

    Confederate Memorials had absolutely no connection to the unwarranted treatment of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. Rather than destroy or remove Confederate monuments, it would be more logical to remove a monument to the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. Absurd, you say? As far as I know, Minnesota never had a single connection to the Confederate States of America but was the first state to answer Lincoln’s call for volunteers.

    And let us not forget that Minnesota has a long-standing history of overt racism, dating back to 1862, when Governor Alexander Ramsey called for the extermination of the Dakotas. In fact, it was Union General John Pope who was sent to Minnesota to oversee military operations against them, and President Lincoln who authorized the largest mass execution in United States history

    One of George Orwell’s characters in 1984 warns “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped.”

    Orwell was clearly a visionary of the United States, 2020!

    • Mike Crane Jun 2, 2020 @ 11:39

      Good to see the commander of the Maryland Division of the SCV chime in on the topic. You actually answered why they are protesting in Minnesota in your comment. The murder of George Floyd by police officers was hardly the first incident of state racism in Minnesota.

      • Terry Klima Jun 3, 2020 @ 7:40

        It is good,Professor, that we are in complete agreement as to the basis of protest in Minnesota.

        Based upon Minnesota’s demonstrated pattern of institutional racism, are we in complete agreement that Confederate memorials have absolutely no connection or relevance to the actions of a rogue Minneapolis police officer?

        • Phil R. Jun 7, 2020 @ 3:17

          I think it would be more accurate to say that one of the primary reasons the monuments are coming down is that you and your organization continue to NOT see the link between the protests and your fetish objects.

        • Andy Hall Jun 7, 2020 @ 8:24

          The death of George Floyd is neither an isolated incident, nor is it the source of all the anger and resentment that has come to the surface in these protests and disturbances. Rather, it is a catalyst that opened the gates. If the George Floyd case had never happened, the next one in a week, or a month, of a year, would have. And we have seen vividly over the last two weeks that there are a great many police officers like Derek Chauvin, who are ready to violently escalate a situation at little (or no) excuse, and use deadly force with impunity. Every rubber bullet and CS cannister simply underscores the protesters’ position.

    • Joshism Jun 4, 2020 @ 16:15

      “It should come as no surprise that individuals no longer respect the property rights of others”

      So what you’re saying is that we’ve reached the bottom of the 160-year-long slippery slope start we started on when Republicans refused to respect the property rights of slaveholders?

  • Fergus M. Bordewich Jun 2, 2020 @ 11:04

    It’s easy to empathize with those who deface Confederate monuments, which many or most African Americans find personally insulting, and stand as mocking reminders of the generations-long influence of Lost Cause revisionism over the remembering of the Civil War. But personally, rather than destroy existing monuments, I would prefer to see the creation of new, contemporary memorials bearing on slavery, Reconstruction, and the Jim Crow era, and which would challenge us to the country’s racial past in fresh ways. The new lynching memorial and museum in Alabama is a perfect example.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 11:13

      Thanks for the comment. I completely agree with you re: the question of empathy. At one time I thought that the addition of monuments/memorials to the commemorative landscape might help to alleviate some of the concern, but the situation in Richmond suggests otherwise. No city has done more in recent decades to add to its monument landscape in key public spaces, but I suspect some hard decisions will need to be made in the coming weeks/months.

      • Fergus M. Bordewich Jun 2, 2020 @ 11:24

        Individual communities will make different decisions, of course. On a purely visceral level, my spirits soar when I see Lee or Jackson come down. But post-Confederate triumphalism — repugnant as it is — is also a part of our history, and I’d rather see it countered than that we act as if it has been scrubbed away because a monument has been removed. Germany has worked very hard over the past 20 years or so to deal with these questions. The presentation, for example, of the basement area of the WWII-era Gestapo building in Berlin is a brilliant, intensely powerful example. There are others. We can learn from them

        • Kevin Levin Jun 2, 2020 @ 11:30

          There is a wonderful new book by Susan Neiman titled Learning From the Germans that deals with just this question. You may want to check it out.

          I hear you, but as you say this is a local matter. The monuments were put up by local individuals/organizations and their future depends on it as well.

          • Fergus M. Bordewich Jun 2, 2020 @ 11:42

            Yes, a good book. Thx.

    • New England Jon Jun 12, 2020 @ 6:55

      Hi. I enjoyed reading your article in the Spring 2020. Civil War Monitor. Are you aware of any monuments to Clem Vallandigham?

  • Gregg Clemmer Jun 3, 2020 @ 8:36

    I’ve patiently read these back and forth postings and I’d just like to offer a few words from more notable sources.

    “If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future.”
    Winston Churchill

    “Whoever controls the present controls the past, and whoever controls the past controls the future.”
    George Orwell

    …and then there is this…

    “Remove not the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.”
    Proverbs 22:28

    Respectfully offered by Gregg S. Clemmer

  • Michael Williams Jun 3, 2020 @ 10:58

    The UDC lost an original battle flag that night belonging to the 31st Virginia Infantry Regiment which was personally presented to them by General Jackson.

    And soon all the monuments may be pulled down by rioters.

    I hope you’re happy Kevin…

  • Matt McKeon Jun 3, 2020 @ 14:06

    In the 1960s a group(not the IRA) blew up the statue of Horiato Nelson, that graced a square in Dublin. The most famous headline in Irish history appeared the next day: “British Admiral leaves Dublin by air.”

  • Matt McKeon Jun 3, 2020 @ 14:11

    Seriously, I have always held that the monument debate should be at the local level, where the people actually live and use the streets and parks. It should be handled in the most boring fashion possible: hearings and city council votes. The councilors have to answer to the constituents, and while not everyone will get their say, they will not necessarily get their way. Some communities will make changes, some won’t. Its democratic and the rule of law.

  • Matt McKeon Jun 3, 2020 @ 14:18

    One last point. The vandalism and property destruction have been treated by some posters as heralding the end of civilization, either 1984 or ISIS blowing up the Buddha statues, or against the Bible.

    There is a modest plaque marking the place where Emment Till was lynched, sparking the Civil Rights movement. It has been defaced and shot to pieces, and had to have been replaced several times. The current plaque probably has enough armor to withstand a bazooka. I have never heard one of the defenders of Confederate statues, who consider spray painting the end of fucking civilization EVER waste a syllable on Till’s memorial.

    • Terry Klima Jun 4, 2020 @ 3:33

      And your point? Apparently, you view vandalism and property destruction as the new norm? How about the burning of a church, or perhaps one of the most egregious incidents-setting fire to a residence with children inside and then blocking emergency vehicles from responding? Or the indiscriminate execution of police officers for no other reason than than they are COPS, devoid of evidence of wrongdoing.

      Tell me again how the looting of businesses advances the cause of Mr. Floyd. For that matter,in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic, was it even wise for large assemblies to gather throughout the US, likely exacerbating the spread of the Coronavirus throughout the United States and impacting affected communities ?

      Whether in fact such actions herald the end of civilization is worthy of consideration. The vile and baseless behaviors of death and destruction exhibited over the past few days clearly demonstrate social and cultural development and organization is rapidly deteriorating.

      • Msb Jun 4, 2020 @ 6:55

        As to church burning, do you refer to the bombing in Birmingham that killed 4 little girls? The frequent burning of black churches in the South? The murder of 9 members of a Bible study group, including the pastor, in Charleston 5 years ago? The fire started at St John’s in DC by protestors, or the gassing of its clergy by the US military? And it is police, not protestors, who have shot at, pepper sprayed, gassed and maimed clearly identifiable journalists. I object to all of these, as well as damage to businesses.
        I imagine that Mr McKeon’s point is the same as mine, that people who are really concerned with violence, rather than with keeping minorities “in their place” (sic), are concerned with all violence, not just that practiced by what they see as “the other side”.
        What would advance Mr Floyd’s cause would be not having been murdered by 4 armed men whose job was supposed to be to protect and serve him. What would serve everyone’s cause would be equal justice under the law. With shining exceptions in Camden, New Jersey; Atlanta, Georgia; Houston, Texas and Flint, Michigan, the self-described forces of law and order are not offering it.

      • Matt McKeon Jun 4, 2020 @ 10:10

        With respect, Mr. Kilma, people are protesting being murdered. They are anti-murder. They think they are being murdered because of their race. They are anti-racist.

        As far as vandalism is concerned, people are remarkably chill about a sign about the murder of a black child being vandalized for years. Spray paint a Confederate monument, that’s a horse of a different color.

        So to speak.

  • Msb Jun 3, 2020 @ 23:04

    My God. The statue of Lee on Monument Ave. in Richmond is going to come down. Wonder why it’s Lee, who was at least a Virginian, rather than Davis, who wasn’t?

    • Andy Hall Jun 6, 2020 @ 8:05

      Lee’s monument is more prominent on the Richmond landscape — it’s in the center of a traffic circle, so you have to drive around it, instead of merely past it — and Lee himself is far more emblematic of the Confederacy than Davis among the general public.

      • Msb Jun 6, 2020 @ 9:10

        Thanks, Andy. You always have something useful to contribute!

  • CliosFanBoy Jun 4, 2020 @ 6:13

    maybe move the Richmond monuments (the statues at least) to the Civil War Museum in town.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 4, 2020 @ 7:28

      Let’s remember that most history museums are not even open right now and they will be dealing with a number of pressing issues related to their very survival for the foreseeable future. I suspect that acquiring a Confederate monument is not very high on their list of priorities.

      • CliosFanBoy Jun 5, 2020 @ 6:55

        Fair enough, though I was thinking in the long run. If nothing else maybe some flagger with a lot of property will want his own statue garden. 😉

  • AMH Jun 4, 2020 @ 9:54

    Lee’s wartime secretary, Charles Marshall, said during his speech at the laying of the cornerstone to the Lee monument in Richmond: “history tears down statues and monuments to great attributes and deeds, unless those attributes have been devoted to some noble end, and those deeds done in a righteous cause.” I think many people in Richmond today would agree with him.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 4, 2020 @ 10:10

      I am not sure I discern a “noble end” in Lee’s actions, but that’s just me.

      • AMH Jun 4, 2020 @ 10:21

        Oh, me either. Marshall did of course, but I thought it was ironic that he said ‘history’ will tear down a statute if it was erected for deeds that are not noble or righteous, which is exactly what is happening now.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 4, 2020 @ 11:21

          Got it. Thanks for the follow-up.

          • Gregg Clemmer Jun 4, 2020 @ 17:41

            Perhaps you should consider this. Seeing the desecration of the Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, and now, the change in laws that “allows” the city to remove it as well as other Confederate memorials along Monument Avenue, I feel obligated to comment and share with you my thoughts. I realize some of you are uncomfortable with keeping Lee’s name on monuments or schools. Branded racist, traitor, even neo-Nazi by some, Robert E. Lee to you is anathema. Yet few realize that Lee never bought anyone, yet U.S. Grant did! (Check Douglas Southall Freeman’s Pulitzer Prize winning bio of Lee, Vol. 1, page 371, & Vol. 4, page 400; and William McFeeley’s Pulitzer Prize winning bio of Grant, pages 62-3.

            But let me bring in another Civil War historian who, from his truly unique life’s perspective, can clarify for all maintaining an open, fair mind, why we need to honor and remember Lee:

            “Upon Lincoln’s call to arms to coerce the seceding states, Virginia made without hesitation the choice which she was so heroically to sustain. She would not fight on the issue of slavery, but stood firm on the constitutional ground that every state in the Union enjoyed sovereign rights. On this principle Virginians denied the claim of the Federal government to exercise coercion. By 88 votes to 55 the Virginia Convention in Richmond refused to allow the state militia to respond to Lincoln’s call.

            “Virginia seceded from the Union and placed her entire military forces at the disposal of the Confederacy. This decided the conduct of one of the noblest Americans who ever lived, and one of the greatest captains known in the annals of war.

            “Robert E. Lee stood high in American life. His father had been a colonel in the Revolution. By his marriage with Miss Custis, a descendant of Mrs. George Washington, he became the master of Arlington, the house overlooking the national capital which George Custis, Washington’s adopted son, ‘the child of Mount Vernon,’ as he was called, had built for himself a few miles from Washington’s own house. A graduate of West Point, General Scott’s Engineer Staff-Officer in the Mexican War, Lee had served for more than 25 years in the United States Army with distinction. His noble presence and gentle, kindly manner were sustained by religious faith and an exalted character. As the American scene darkened he weighed carefully, while commanding a regiment of cavalry on the Texan border, the course which duty and honour would require from him. He was opposed to slavery and thought that ‘secession would do no good,’ but he had been taught from childhood that his first allegiance was to the state of Virginia. Summoned to Washington during March 1861, he had thus expressed himself to an intimate Northern friend:

            “‘If Virginia stands by the Old Union, so will I. But if she secedes (though I do not believe in secession as a constitutional right, nor that there is sufficient cause for revolution), then I will still follow my native state with my sword, and if need be with my life.”
            (end of quotation of this author)

            “ONE OF THE NOBLEST AMERICANS WHO EVER LIVED…”
            I would say that after reading this author’s writing on Lee in his book The American Civil War, published in 1961, that’s about the highest praise one might get, especially when it comes from the pen of the man who led the world in defeating Nazism….Sir Winston Churchill.

            • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2020 @ 1:33

              With all due respect, you really need to update your library. There has been a great deal of scholarship that has come out on Robert E. Lee and slavery. I recommend you start with Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s book, Reading the Man.

            • CliosFanBoy Jun 5, 2020 @ 6:57

              Grant freed the one slave he owned, even though he was desperate for money at the time, and could have gotten the equivalent of a couple year’s working salary for him.

            • Msb Jun 6, 2020 @ 9:15

              Lee reneged on his oath to his country, was perfectly fine with his army kidnapping African Americans (fellow citizens) to sell as slaves in the Confederacy when it invaded Pennsylvania and supported an effort to break up the US and found a slaveholding empire. I’m sure he was courteous and honorable in dealing with fellow whites.
              Not enough.

              • Terry Klima Jun 6, 2020 @ 12:00

                Lee didn’t renege on his oath, at least in the eyes of West Point graduate, 5 star General, Supreme Allied Commander and 33rd US President Dwight Eisenhower who wrote the following to a constituent who questioned his admiration of General Lee:

                Dear Dr. Scott:

                Respecting your August 1 inquiry calling attention to my often expressed admiration for General Robert E. Lee, I would say, first, that we need to understand that at the time of the War between the States the issue of secession had remained unresolved for more than 70 years. Men of probity, character, public standing and unquestioned loyalty, both North and South, had disagreed over this issue as a matter of principle from the day our Constitution was adopted.

                General Robert E. Lee was, in my estimation, one of the supremely gifted men produced by our Nation. He believed unswervingly in the Constitutional validity of his cause which until 1865 was still an arguable question in America; he was a poised and inspiring leader, true to the high trust reposed in him by millions of his fellow citizens; he was thoughtful yet demanding of his officers and men, forbearing with captured enemies but ingenious, unrelenting and personally courageous in battle, and never disheartened by a reverse or obstacle. Through all his many trials, he remained selfless almost to a fault and unfailing in his faith in God. Taken altogether, he was noble as a leader and as a man, and unsullied as I read the pages of our history.

                From deep conviction, I simply say this: a nation of men of Lee’s calibre would be unconquerable in spirit and soul. Indeed, to the degree that present-day American youth will strive to emulate his rare qualities, including his devotion to this land as revealed in his painstaking efforts to help heal the Nation’s wounds once the bitter struggle was over, we, in our own time of danger in a divided world, will be strengthened and our love of freedom sustained.

                Such are the reasons that I proudly display the picture of this great American on my office wall.

                Sincerely,

                Dwight D. Eisenhower

              • Kevin Levin Jun 6, 2020 @ 12:49

                Honestly, why should I care what Eisenhower thinks of Robert E. Lee?

              • Terry Klima Jun 6, 2020 @ 13:18

                Didn’t mean to touch a sensitive nerve. Everyone is weighing in with opinions so it seemed most appropriate to weigh in with the perspective of a highly regarded military leader and President, who has faced the perils of war. Who better to judge the patriotism, character and leadership of Lee?

              • Kevin Levin Jun 6, 2020 @ 14:13

                I assure you that I am not sensitive. I was simply asking why I should care about what IKE had to say about Lee decades ago. I don’t see how we can talk about Lee’s patriotism when there were plenty of prominent Virginians who remained loyal to the United States. I am thinking of Winfield Scott and George Thomas. That to me is patriotism.

            • Phil R. Jun 7, 2020 @ 3:31

              Your post is misleading. It’s not clear whether Lee ever purchased a slave; Grant never did. Lee, however, spent much of his adult life leasing, leasing out, and otherwise managing the slaves he inherited and those of his father-in-law’s estate. He was thoroughly enmeshed in the institution, as it determined the future prosperity of his children on the estates they would inherit. It is much more accurate to say that Lee remained loyal to his social class–slaveowners–than to his state. He understood that, win or lose, his fate was tied to theirs.

            • London John Jun 12, 2020 @ 7:37

              I don’t think Churchill is exactly the go-to reference when racism is involved.

              • New England Jon Jun 12, 2020 @ 8:22

                I see your point, but some of the Lincoln buffs associated with Frank Williams, or maybe Judge Williams himself, like to connect Churchill (and FDR) is ideal Anglo-American statesmen. FDR, of course, can be seen as problematic for his interring of Japanese-Americans; or for America Firsters of the 1940 type and anti-New Dealers. Gore Vidal comes to mind

                As an aside, mygrandfather wasn’t a fan because he thinks that Roosevelt sold out Poland. He still took my mom and her sisters to Hyde Park.

  • Gregg McCormick Jun 5, 2020 @ 3:02

    I pulled my copy of her book from my shelf and would simply quote you from the last paragraph in it. “We still recognize importance in Lee because he has left us an enduring example of personal courage against the vagaries of human existence. This is what makes Lee worth knowing–not the flash of his saber, but his handling of the everyday tribulations of this world.”

    Yes, you can go back through her work and cite whatever you want to push this “take down the Lee monument” issue. But I can assure you, Ms. Pryor, gone now these five years after that idiot driver killed her in a car wreck in Richmond, would be appalled by what’s going on in our country now.

    I’m off to the mountains for the weekend. But reply as you will….if you want.

    • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2020 @ 3:17

      Yes, I knew Elizabeth Pryor and would suggest that her view of the monuments was much more nuanced. I cited her book because of the depth of her analysis of Lee’s connection to the institution of slavery. Enjoy the mountains.

      • Terry Klima Jun 5, 2020 @ 4:38

        While discussing the nuanced view of the monuments, and Lee’s connection to the institution of slavery, perhaps is it time to consider removal of monuments to US Grant? It has been established beyond doubt that he was a slave holder, relied on slave labor to construct his home Hardscrabble and allowed his wife Julia to visit him throughout the war accompanied by her slaves.

        For those that have found positivity in the removal,vandalism and destruction of Confederate monuments and memorials, take note that it is no longer just Confederate Monuments being vandalized or destroyed. In Boston, sixteen monuments including the “The Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Regiment Memorial” were vandalized and defaced. As to what message this destruction was intended to convey is unclear but it certainly has little, if any, connection to historical events of the past.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2020 @ 5:37

          You are free to call for the removal of any monument in your neighborhood and beyond.

          I live in Boston. The Shaw Memorial was not damaged because it is currently under renovation. The boarding that protects it was tagged. That said, the Shaw Memorial has been vandalized in the recent past.

          As for Grant I suggest you pick up a biography.

          • Terry Klima Jun 5, 2020 @ 9:32

            Sorry, didn’t mean to touch a sensitive nerve…… merely reporting what was shown in photos by a Boston news source. Clearly, the destruction is no longer confined to Confederate Memorials. If protesters in fact believed that Robert Gould Shaw and the 54 Massachusetts were Confederates, the educational system in Boston has clearly failed them. Perhaps this would suggest the compelling need for you to write a sequel-Searching for Black Union Soldiers…..and their monuments.

            Regarding Grant,I have read numerous biographies of both he and his wife. Despite any nuance you chose to apply, he owned a slave, he relied on slave labor to build Hardscrabble and his wife Julia relied on slave labor throughout the war. It is pointless to spend additional time researching the topic, since the History Channel and historian Leonardo DiCaprio have already confirmed my understanding.

            • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2020 @ 10:00

              I followed up by confirming your initial statement. It was indeed tagged and by now I suspect it has been cleaned. It’s not a sensitive topic for me. Monuments are political touchstones and this type of act is fairly common. The relief sculpture itself, along with much of the structure are now being renovated, which should give you a sense of how Bostonians feel about this particular memorial.

              The History Channel didn’t add anything new about Grant. They took advantage of the latest scholarship. I am not sure why we are even talking about Grant right now, except as a way to distract from the elephant in the room, which you seem intent on ignoring.

              Of course, I understand.

        • Kevin Levin Jun 5, 2020 @ 6:44

          I stand corrected. The Shaw memorial did indeed get tagged last night.

        • hank clark Jun 5, 2020 @ 14:27

          and when did grant take up arms against the united states ?

          • Terry Klima Jun 6, 2020 @ 11:38

            Interesting question which I’m glad you asked……both Lee and Grant swore the same military oath which read “I, _____, appointed a _____ in the Army of the United States, do solemnly swear, or affirm, that I will bear true allegiance to the United States of America, and that I will serve them honestly and faithfully against all their enemies or opposers whatsoever, and observe and obey the orders of the President of the United States, and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to the rules and articles for the government of the Armies of the United States.”

            Notice the use of the term “THEM” and “THEIR” and “ARMIES” It should be obvious that “UNITED” referenced an group of free, independent and sovereign states that agreed to work cooperatively under the terms of a Constitution mutually agreed to. The United States was not a body greater than the States that acceded to its creation.

            So Grant did take up arms against “THEM” and “THEIR” “ARMIES”

            • Jimmy Dick Jun 6, 2020 @ 17:32

              Robert E. Lee was a traitor. There is no doubt about that. Why should we have a monument to a man who turned his back on his nation and committed treason against it?

              • Terry Klima Jun 6, 2020 @ 18:56

                Not only is there doubt but there are facts to the contrary. For starters, one has to be convicted of treason to be labelled a traitor. Anyone who studies the Constitution,specifically Article III, Section 3, should recognize that “No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court”. There is no record that charges of treason were ever leveled at General Lee, and certainly no conviction. Let’s just stick with historical facts!

              • Jimmy Dick Jun 7, 2020 @ 6:49

                We shall stick to historical facts.The Confederates were pardoned for their treason which means they could not be tried in court for treason as that would be double jeopardy under the US Constitution.

                Nice try with the usual lie, Terry. Facts are stubborn things which the SCV hates because the facts show the SCV to be a racist organization that has consistently lied to everyone about the Civil War.

  • Brad Jun 5, 2020 @ 5:47

    Late to this party but I’m glad to to see this statues coming down. They represent memorials to oppression of a people and hate. Are there any remaining monuments or memorials to Hitler in Germany? And, yes, the South’s regime of enslavement and so forth is equivalent to Nazi Germany. I would have preferred that these statues come down until color of law but since the remaining Lost Causers have made this impossible self help is the only remedy available.

    • Msb Jun 5, 2020 @ 11:14

      No, they’re being taken down mostly by local government authorities. Those destroyed by local people are in the minority.

  • Matt Caron Jun 5, 2020 @ 12:56

    Buffalo Soldiers Monuments Still Stand…For Now

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.