by Robin Traywick Williams
It is dangerous these days to advocate for anything even tangentially associated with the words “Confederate,” but after almost three years of monument-bashing, it might be worth discussing where this is going. In addition to Lee, Stuart and nameless soldiers on courthouse lawns, Columbus, Lincoln, and Juniper Serra have all fallen. Will the country take a deep breath and consider whether significant works of art bear saving because of their historical and cultural value or will self-appointed arbiters of righteous thinking move on, unrestrained, to burning Monticello and imploding the slave-built White House?
The Naming Commission has submitted its final report, and not surprisingly, it recommends the renaming or removal from military installations of every item related to the Civil War, down to the last toenail clipping. The panel of eight political appointees was nothing if not thorough, finding offense even in the use of the color gray on military insignia as well as in the name of a Confederate horse.
Renaming bases and removing prints of Civil War battles is one thing—the hallowed ground of Ft. Benning will remain, and there are thousands of reproduction prints—but the Commission has taken the astonishing step of recommending the demolition of a culturally and historically important work of art by an internationally-renowned artist—in Arlington Cemetery, no less.
On the block is the Confederate Memorial to Reconciliation and Reunification, which is on the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing part of the Arlington National Cemetery Historic District. Created by one of America’s most celebrated artists, Sir Moses Ezekiel, the monument was endorsed by four presidents and dedicated by Woodrow Wilson at an event attended by veterans of the North and South, who shook hands and embraced.
The monument recognizes an important moment in the evolution of the history of America, the spiritual and emotional reconciliation of two regions that had fought bitterly 50 years earlier. Although the country was technically reunified in 1865, the heavy hand of Reconstruction made reconciliation challenging, as Southerners struggled to rebuild their war-torn states under steep federal burdens. But in 1898, the sons and grandsons of Confederate soldiers joined the U.S. Army in large numbers to help fight the Spanish-American War. President McKinley, himself a Union veteran, saw an opportunity to bind up the nation’s wounds with a generous show of gratitude towards the South. Congress concurred, and provision was made for proper treatment of Confederate graves, including re-interment of hundreds in Section 16 of Arlington Cemetery. Continue reading