Sensitive to Art & its Discontents
Racist Monument in Virginia Will Finally Be Removed
The Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) in Arlington, Virginia, has initiated the dismantling process of the Confederate Memorial that has stood on its grounds since 1914. Confederate veteran and sculptor Moses Ezekiel was commissioned by the United Daughters of the Confederacy to design and sculpt the monument, which became his most famous work to date and eventually his final resting place three years after its installment.
“Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) is required to remove the Confederate Memorial at ANC and has initiated a process to prepare for the careful removal and relocation of its Confederate Memorial, located in Section 16 of the cemetery,” reads a recent statement from the cemetery. “All bronze elements of the memorial will be relocated.” The announcement was made following last year’s recommendation from the Naming Commission that was once in charge of evaluating military assets across the country with Confederate-aligned names for removal.
The Baroque-style memorial consists of a cast bronze female figure representing and honoring the South at the top of a bronze plinth mounted on an octagonal granite base that incorporates 32 life-size figures representing Confederate soldiers. The largest point of contention with the memorial is Ezekiel’s representation of a White soldier going off to fight on the Confederate side of the Civil War kissing his infant child held up by a Black woman, fashioned as a loyal and matronly “mammy” figure, crying at his departure. The monument has been repeatedly criticized for its White supremacist distortion of history in the characterization of African-American people as “loyal slaves” and “faithful Black servants” who endorsed the Confederacy. In her 2010 novel Memorial Mania: Public Feeling in America, art historian and University of Notre Dame professor Erika Lee Doss described the monument as a “pro-southern textbook illustrated in bronze.”
The memorial’s existence became a hot-button issue once again in 2017, after civil rights activist Heather Heyer was killed while protesting at the White supremacist Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, prompting Ezekiel’s descendants to send a letter to the Washington Post. The living members of the Ezekiel family wrote that the memorial “glorifies the fight to own human beings, and, in its portrayal of African Americans, implies their collusion.”
“As proud as our family may be of Moses’s artistic prowess, we — some twenty Ezekiels — say remove that statue,” the letter continued. “Take it out of its honored spot in Arlington National Cemetery and put it in a museum that makes clear its oppressive history.”
ANC was not immediately available for Hyperallergic’s request for comment.
In order to facilitate the proper removal of the monument, ANC must consult with interagency partners to develop a consultation plan and take into account public responses to finalize the place for the bronzes’ relocation and to consider any potential hazards or damages that could occur as the sculptures are dismantled. A phase-II survey report of the site from March 20 indicated that the monument may individually qualify for a listing in the National Register for Historic Places as it meets two separate criteria: “its unique visual representation of the Lost Cause mythology,” and “its design by Moses Ezekiel, a renowned master sculptor with a personal connection to the Civil War.”
The survey report addressed the potential for unintentional damage to the sculptures during the dismantling and moving processes, but ultimately “should have no adverse effect on the graves in Section 16 or on any archaeological resources in that area,” stating that the intended process is to “remove only the bronze memorial elements of the memorial,” leaving the granite base to mark the spot where the structure once stood. The future home for the memorial remains unclear at this time.
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