Robert E. Lee Takes Another Hit in Virginia

Remember back in 2018 when Richmond’s Monument Avenue Commission recommended removing the Jefferson Davis statue and interpreting the rest with signage? Seems so long ago. At the time I was skeptical that the Davis statue would be removed, but here we are. It is likely that over the past seven months more Confederate monuments came down across the country, including Virginia, than were raised in any given year at the height of monument dedications during the Jim Crow era.

(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Since the beginning of June eighty-seven Confederate monuments have been removed. That number will soon rise with the removal of another statue of Robert E. Lee in Washington, D.C.

In 1951 Barbara Johns led a student walkout at Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia in protest over the conditions at her school. She was 16 years old. That protest eventually became part of the Supreme Court Case of Brown v. Board of Education, which overturned segregation in public spaces, including public schools. A statue of Johns will soon replace Robert E. Lee—one of two statues representing the Commonwealth of Virginia—in Statuary Hall, located inside the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

The vote that still needs to take place in the General Assembly will likely be a formality. I couldn’t be more thrilled with this decision.

A number of states are in the process of evaluating their contributions to Statuary Hall. The decision to replace Lee with Johns compliments Florida’s recent decision to replace a statue honoring Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith with Mary MacLeod Bethune.

This comes as Arlington County in northern Virginia has decided to change its logo, which featured the home of Robert E. Lee before the war at Arlington House on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery. The home has always been synonymous with Lee, even though he spent relatively little time there before the war. In addition, Congressman Don Beyer has proposed a bill that would strip Lee’s name from its official Park Service designation.

We will likely not see the same focus on Confederate monument removals in 2021 that we witnessed this past year and it is certainly the case that the vast majority of monuments remain in place, but make no mistake, at this point future debates and removals are little more than a mopping up operation.

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 latest 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. Order your copy today.

19 comments… add one
  • Jimmy Johnson Dec 25, 2020 @ 7:38

    One of the things you revisionists won’t do, is answer questions posed, but change the subject. Answer these, and I will gladly leave you to your destruction of American traditions and history. One: why did your President Lincoln totally support the original 13th Constitutional Amendment? This was to once and for all, allow the slave states complete control over their “domestic institutions”, and Lincoln was a backer. Why did Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation include only those slaves held within the states in rebellion, and not all slaves throughout the U. S.? Just stick to these questions, please.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 25, 2020 @ 8:19
      1. Lincoln supported it because it didn’t necessarily conflict with reuniting the nation. Union was the paramount goal throughout the war.
      2. The Emancipation Proclamation was a military order designed to crush the Confederate military effort.

      Anything else?

      Of course, this has nothing to do with the content of the post, which speaks directly to your insecurities.

  • Lee Hodges Dec 22, 2020 @ 5:53

    I did not even know who Barbara Johns was prior to this–and am very glad I learned. She was certainly a highly admirable and courageous person.

    Having said that, my choice would have been Thomas Jefferson, and it wouldn’t have been a difficult one. This is because if someone asked me who the two “top” Virginians of all time were, I’d say “George Washington and Thomas Jefferson” without even having to think about it. I use the word “top” in terms of significance, both in a morally neutral sense (either for good or for bad) and in the sense of contributions to the nation that most Americans today consider positive. I should add that I’m not a Virginian myself–if I were it’s possible my perspective would be different.

    • James Harrigan Dec 22, 2020 @ 6:07

      Lee Hodges, as a Virginian I agree that both Thomas Jefferson and George Washington are worth commemorating in Washington DC – but we already have the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial! The statue of Barbara Johns will serve an educational as well as a memorial function, so she’s definitely the right Virginian for Statuary Hall.

    • zcrockett53 Dec 23, 2020 @ 19:57

      Hi, Lee,
      I am a Virginian, 67yo white woman, retired school librarian and US history teacher.
      I’m so glad people are learning about Barbara Johns. A good book about the events surrounding her struggle is “Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County,” by Kristen Green.
      Jefferson and Washington both owned slaves. But as they grew older their attitudes changed. Jefferson grew more harsh and grasping toward his slaves. Read “Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves,” by Henry Wiencek.
      Washington, on the other hand, grew more generous toward his enslaved people and more concerned about the evils of slavery. Read “‘The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret’” by Mary V. Thompson. The title comes from the following statement that George Washington seems to have made to one of his early biographers, his former military aide, David Humphries: “The unfortunate condition of the persons, whose labor in part I employed, has been the only unavoidable subject of regret. To make the Adults among them as easy & as comfortable in their circumstances as their actual state of ignorance & improvidence would admit; & to lay a foundation to prepare the rising generation for a destiny different from that in which they were born: afforded some satisfaction to my mind, & could not I hoped be displeasing to the justice of the Creator.”

      • James Harrigan Dec 24, 2020 @ 6:10

        I second the recommendation for the book “Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County” by Kristen Green. It is a very compelling and shocking story about “massive resistance” against school desegregation in one Virginia county, near where I live.

        • zcrockett53 Dec 24, 2020 @ 7:08

          Thx – who would believe that a county could close their public schools for FIVE YEARS!!! Just so they could deny education to Black children. The school board and white parents took every useful thing from the public school buildings and put them into the lily white Prince Edward Academy; there should be a picture of it in any definition of segregation academy.
          Sorry, James, I know you know all this. But my Culpeper Co. public schools were peacefully desegregating while all this was going on and it makes me so angry that when I was making friends with new Black students in my 7th grade home room, Barbara Johns and her peers lost five years of their lives.

  • Phyllis A Sears Dec 17, 2020 @ 18:23

    I am so glad Barbara Johns will join the other women in National Statuary Hall in the US Capitol. She is represented already on the powerful Virginia Civil Rights Monument in the grounds of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond. There is also the Virginia Women’s Monument on the grounds. And Maggie L. Walker has her own statue on Broad Street in Richmond. Virginia is one of 7 states working to replace their National Statuary Hall statue with a statue of a woman. Follow along for women statues @HerstoricalMonuments. Facebook/Twitter/Instagram

  • Craig L. Dec 17, 2020 @ 14:08

    I’d like to see all of the REL statues replaced with statues of Matthew Broderick dressed as Ferris Bueller (behind the wheel of a red Ferrari wearing a letterman’s jacket over a paisley vest and a white t-shirt) as a reminder of which side actually won the War Between the States.

  • James Johnson Dec 17, 2020 @ 12:18

    As I have said before, the Civil War was never fought over slavery. It was fought because once the South seceded, the North had no revenue stream. The North was broke! The South wasn’t fighting to preserve slavery. They didn’t have to. Slavery was legal under the Constitution, at that time. The South fought because they were invaded, once in Charleston Harbor and again at the first Bull Run. The North needed the Federal Government, the South did not. The South had an economy, the North didn’t. The South was going to collect Lincoln’s tariffs, and the North would go begging. Lincoln was a White Supremicist, he wrote of his scorn for the black man and spoke the same way. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclimation applied only to the slaves within the states in rebellion. Why not include the slaves in Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois and Kentucky? What about the slaves the slaves held in Washington DC? Why not? Because couldn’t free them, anymore than he could free the slaves in the South. You seem to relish the destruction of American traditions, history and the education thereof. Hitler did the same thing. That worked out well, didn’t it.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2020 @ 13:42

      There are so many ridiculous statements in this comment that I really don’t know where to begin. For now I will highlight this little gem.

      The South had an economy, the North didn’t.

    • Neil Hamilton Dec 17, 2020 @ 16:52

      James,

      So the authors of Southern secession lied when they referenced slavery in those documents? The delegates to the secession conventions LIED when they kept bringing up slavery as a concern? The North had no economy? That revelation would have come as a real shock to Sam Houston when he warned the South that the North could produce a locomotive and the South couldn’t. The South was going to collect the North’s tariffs? The South couldn’t even collect enough money from their own tariff, hence the need to have a tax-in-kind that basically robbed Southern civilians of their crops, livestock, and other property.

      And the final absurd comment from fantasy island? Lincoln, the man who issued the Emancipation Proclamation and helped push through the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery, was a “White Supremicist.”

      Read some history and learn to spell.

      Seriously,
      Neil

    • Msb Dec 17, 2020 @ 22:31

      You do know that repeating a falsehood doesn’t make it true, don’t you?

  • Terry Dec 17, 2020 @ 8:41

    How ironic that Virginia wants to replace the statue of Robert E. Lee in Statuary Hall, but had no concerns electing Governor Ralph Northram, who used a Jim Crow era racial slur as a nickname and was photographed with associate, dressed in blackface and Klan attire.

    Despite acknowledged differences in generational and societal norms, Lee never engaged in such hurtful and degrading behavior.

    It appears we have come full circle and now a San Francisco School District is contemplating the renaming of Abraham Lincoln High School. “San Francisco may remove Abraham Lincoln’s name from a high school, because a district committee says the 16th president — who abolished slavery — did not demonstrate that “black lives mattered to him.”

    Be careful what you ask for!

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2020 @ 8:46

      Despite acknowledged differences in generational and societal norms, Lee never engaged in such hurtful and degrading behavior.

      What a ridiculous thing to say. Thanks for the laugh.

    • Neil Hamilton Dec 17, 2020 @ 9:26

      Lee certainly engaged in “hurtful and degrading behavior” when he led the primary military force of the Confederacy to keep and enforce slavery for millions of human beings.

    • Msb Dec 17, 2020 @ 22:34

      Lee claimed to “own” human beings. Hurtful, degrading and literally mutilating behavior.

  • James Harrigan Dec 17, 2020 @ 5:27

    a small addendum: the choice of Barbara Johns to Replace Lee has not yet been ratified by the Virginia General Assembly. It will be interesting to see the debate. How many Republicans will go on record saying that Lee should stay?

    • Kevin Levin Dec 17, 2020 @ 5:30

      Right, but I think it is safe to say that the vote is a formality. The debate will be interesting.

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