Portrait of General Lee was hung in the mess hall at West Point in 1931
as a gift from the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
As I began to research when Confederate monuments were first erected in the United States, I discovered that it had a lot to do with the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The organization was founded in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 10, 1894, by Mrs. Caroline Meriwether Goodlett and Mrs. Lucian H. (Anna Davenport) Raines.
From their website there's a section about why someone becomes a member:
"I am a member of The United Daughters of the Confederacy because I feel it would greatly please my ancestor to know that I am a member. It would please him to know that I appreciate what he did and delight his soldier love to know that I do not consider the cause which he held so dear to be lost or forgotten. Rather, I am extremely proud of the fact that he was a part of it and was numbered among some of the greatest and bravest men which any such cause ever produced." --- Mary Nowlin Moon
Here is what I would like to know. Of what cause do you refer when you write that your ancestor soldier "held so dear" that you do not want "lost or forgotten?" It's my understanding of the confederate soldier that he fought to NOT remain part of the United States of America. Is that the part you honor? You write that your heritage had the "greatest and bravest men which any such cause ever produced." Again, specifically to what cause are your referring? My understanding is that the south fought to retain the institution of slavery -- a crime against humanity -- and because the north did not support humans being owned by other humans in the United States of America, a war ensued. Is it the institution of slavery, for which your ancestor fought to keep, that you honor and want to maintain fresh memories in the minds and hearts of future generations?
My heritage includes a congressional medal of honor recipient from the Civil War. He was Charles A. Reeder, my great-great grandfather on my mother's side. I am proud that he fought against the institution of slavery. His father owned slaves, yet he chose to go against his family to fight in favor of freedom for all people regardless of skin color. I do not understand how generations of southerners want to continue honoring the ideology of their pro-slavery family members. I see little difference between their southern slavery pride and that of Germans feeling pride in an ancestor who rounded up Jewish people for death marches or worked them to death in prison camps.
On the UDC website, it is clearly stated as an organization it does not support racism. I would like to understand how honoring slavery ideology and wanting to keep alive the memories of ancestors who fought for the right to own people of color as chattel-- is worthy and noble. You denounce racism and yet you do not see the racist heritage? How do members reconcile that? And how do you talk of patriotism when your southern ancestors wanted to recede from the United States of America to be their own slave owning country? What is patriotic about that? These questions might sound cynical, but I sincerely ask them. I truly do not understand your organization. And when you continue to honor symbols like the confederate flag that the right-wing, racist, white supremacists proudly wave with one hand while carrying bibles in the other, you seem shocked. Do you honestly not see that the flag under which slavery was fought, and under which states vowed to die for the right to retain slavery to the point that tearing apart the nation was what your ancestors did, would continue to be a symbol of white supremacy?
The answers to a lot of my questions can be found in understanding what's called The Lost Cause. The more articles I read from the post Civil War era, the more I began to understand what I was suspecting. Confederate statues were propaganda put up years, and often decades, after the Union was preserved. There were decades of "white-washing" the facts where history was essentially rewritten to portray a fiction. It included even changing the word slavery to servant. There was an intentional campaign to rewrite the reality of the south and to fictionalize the lives of slaves so that they appeared well taken care of. The emphasis shifted to creating a (non-existent) good relationship between slave and slave holder, that would only have been the very rare exception, and certainly not an accurate depiction of American slavery.
The 1903 Headline read: Congressman Deplores Proposed Action of Virginians of Mounting Confederate General's Statue (The rest is directly quoted from the newspaper.)
WRITES TO OTTUMWA VETERANS
"The letter was in response to resolutions recently adopted by Cloutman Post, No. 69, G. A. R., of Ottumwa, which were sent to Congressman Lacey and Senator J. P. Dolliver, with the request that as far as possible they use their influence to thwart the alleged purpose of the authorities of Virginia. "
Excited Storm of Protests
"The proposed action of the Virginians has excited a storm of protests from Grand Army men all over the country and the news was no sooner received than the local veterans of the civil war hastened to take steps to protest against the action. The members of Cloutman Post, G. A. R., immediately adopted resolutions and mailed them to the Iowa legislators that they might know the sentiments of their veteran constituents.
The last paragraph of the resolutions sent to Congressman Lacey and Senator Dolliver expresses the sentiment of the Iowa veterans: "Resolved, That with charity for all and malice toward none, we, the members of Cloutman post, No. C9, G. A.R., department of Iowa, emphatically protest against the placing of General Lee's statue in Statuary hall and respectfully demand that if there be need therefore, the law be so amended as to prevent it."
Congressman Lacey's Letter as follows:
Washington, D. C„ Feb. 21, 1903
Your letter with resolutions in regard to the Lea statue has been received. The claim is made by the Virginians that no acceptance by congress is necessary, and that all they need to do, is to put up the statue under the general law and need not ask anybody for authority.
Congress has accepted by resolutions nearly all the statues that are in the Statuary hall. There are some there which have not yet been accepted, and may never be. Though I have not been taking any public action in this matter, I have personally talked with the Virginia delegation to dissuade them from this action. I felt free to do this as I was born in that state myself.
It seems to me that with James Monroe still unprovided for, his name being in the mouth of every loyal American, north and south, and a household word in every part of the globe connected with a living doctrine on which we all unite, that Virginia cannot afford to side track him and put up Lee instead, whose presence along side of Lincoln and Grant in the National Hall of Fame, might be considered as a statement to posterity that there was no distinction of merit between those who fought on the side of the union and those who fought against it.
The bill has gone through the Virginia senate and is likely to become a law. I do not believe that congress will ever accept this statue for it ought not to go into the capitol. If Virginia suffered from any poverty of great names and found difficulty in filling the place it might be different. But she has filled one of her two places with Washington and has one space remaining. People are asking why Monroe's statue is not there. They will always be asking why Lee's is there, should it be erected. "There are already statues of Jefferson in the capitol, though not placed there by Virginia. There is none of Madison or Monroe. I said to one of my Virginia friends in the house, if this statue is erected, there ought to be inscribed on the pedestal, as showing the net result of General Lee's life,the following debt items:
"First—'Our lost cause.'
"Second—'One great paternal Lee estate at Arlington turned into a cemetery with 15,000 Union dead.'
"Third—'One peculiar institution, human slavery, gone into oblivion.
The grand old state of Virginia divided, with her coal and timber land transferred to a new state, and the debts of the Old Dominion still remaining. As a recognition of these results, this monument is erected to the pure minded soldier and general, Robert E. Lee.' "The old soldiers of the United States, Union and Confederate, are fraternizing and heartily accepting the union of the states. Everybody, north and south, rejoices that General Lee failed in his efforts, however pure and heroic he may have been in his purpose, but there should be, and must be, a distinction in our national capitol, between those who have fought for the union, and those who have fought to destroy it.
To teach coming generations "there is no difference between fighting under the flag and fighting against it, would be a very great mistake. The Statuary hall is one for the. teaching of the nation. It should not be used to commemorate the actions of those who only fought to overthrow 'the national government."
"The Legislature voted in 2016 to replace General Edmond Kirby Smith’s statue. In 2017 it was relocated to the Lake County Historical Museum from its location at Statutory Hall. (Pictured left is a copy of it from a 1914 newspaper.) It was replaced by civil-rights leader and educator, Mary McLeod Bethune, the founder of what became Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach.
“The decision to remove the statue of General Kirby is not an impulsive response to Charlottesville, but rather because it is the right thing to do,” State Rep. Patrick Henry, a Bethune-Cookman University graduate said. “Long before the heinous display of bigotry and violence in Virginia, the Legislature initiated a process to remove General Kirby’s statue and as a Legislature it is incumbent upon us to complete this unfinished business.” (paragraph source)
by Betsy Seeton
MONTH SHOULD BE
M O N T H
This is a blog covering and discovering injustice anywhere. It's about race, racism, hatred, love, tolerance, intolerance, ignorance and wisdom. It's about climate change, and all things earth, all things people, plants and animals. It's about change makers and light shiners. It will follow The North Star and report here.
I would like to think that, "One day our descendants will think it incredible that we paid so much attention to things like the amount of melanin in our skin or the shape of our eyes or our gender instead of the unique identities of each of us as complex human beings," as Franklin Thomas said.