Opinion: Letter to the Editor: ‘Sanitized Confederacy’

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: ‘Sanitized Confederacy’

In defense of his argument to “Leave Alexandria’s Protest Statue alone” (See letter, “Protest Art,” Nov. 30) Jimm Roberts depicts the “Appomattox” statue as simply “a three-dimensional manifestation of unspoken disappointment.” He sees a Confederate soldier with his “head bowed, “shoulders sagging” and no weapon, “facing toward Washington’s home and family values.” He wants us to accept that the “unspoken disappointment” portrayed by the soldier is mostly on behalf of “the premature deaths of long ago Alexandria citizens.”

In furtherance of his argument he declares, “The literalists will have us believe that our protest art statue endorses a cause, and removing it will purify history.” Let me say as a “literalist” he got part of that right; the statue indeed “endorses a cause.”

As a “literalist” I ascribe to the principle that one cannot honor the Confederate (or Confederates) without, at the same time, honoring the Confederacy. And while it may be true that the statue’s placement in 1889 at the intersection of Washington and Prince streets was intended principally to honor those from Alexandria who fought and died “prematurely” for the Confederacy, it is nevertheless the case that every one of those men fought for a regime that was totally committed to white supremacy, racial purity and, yes, the perpetuation of slavery.

It has been well documented that the placement of so many Confederate statues throughout the South following the end of Reconstruction and in to the 1930s and ‘40s, was a flagrant attempt in itself to “purify history.” This was the evolution of the Cult of the Lost Cause, which was designed to obfuscate or detract from the real reasons why the South wasn’t victorious. The principal tenet of the Lost Cause argument, wrote Edward H. Bonekemper III, the author of “The Myth of the Lost Cause,” was that the “protection of states’ rights, not slavery, was the central cause of secession.”

Hence, most historians, other than those who still defend the Lost Cause, would regard the removal of the statue as a restoration not a purification of history. And keeping the statue in place, as Mr. Roberts advocates, is a clear attempt to ward off modern protesters from tampering with heritage or history.

Responding to critics over the removal of Confederate memorials in South Carolina, African American State Rep. Justin T. Bamberg declared, “We’re not offended by your heritage. We’re offended that states and local governments, by erecting these monuments on public property that belongs to everybody, are paying homage to people who wanted to keep part of the population in slavery. This is the history we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.”

Moving the statue just a few hundred feet across the street to the Lyceum can hardly constitute “purifying history.” Instead, I believe Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s overarching argument in defending the removal of four Confederate monuments in New Orleans earlier this year has great relevance to our situation in Alexandria. “These monuments,” he declared, “purposefully celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy, ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement and the terror that it actually stood for …. [Their removal is] about showing the whole world that we as a city and as a people are able to acknowledge, understand, reconcile and most importantly, choose a better future for ourselves, making straight what has been crooked and making right what was wrong.”

I still think the Appomattox statue should be donated to the new African American Museum of History and Culture, but if it “travels” to the Lyceum instead I will be content. After all, at the Lyceum it can still serve Mr. Roberts’ vision for his so-called Protest Statue – “as an artistic statement for the aggrieved and for whatever they protest, now and in the future ….“ Whatever that means.

Richard Merritt