How you can tell Arlington National Cemetery what you think about removing the Confederate Memorial
It might surprise some readers who have never visited Arlington National Cemetery that the site has a Confederate section, just as it has a section set aside for the graves of dead from other wars. The Confederate section is section 16, in Stonewall Jackson Circle. It looks a lot like other sections, but there are a few noticeable differences.
First, the Confederate gravestones aren’t rounded across the top, like those of Union veterans and other American war graves. Confederate markers are pointed on top. The graves are also not arranged in neat, packed rows. Instead, they are in concentric circles around the center of the circle.
What’s in the center of the circle is the controversial Confederate Memorial, and that memorial is the latest target of the Naming Commission, the Congressionally-mandated board that has reviewed Department of Defense assets for honoring Confederate battles, individuals and the Confederacy itself. Since 2021, it has been directing the Secretary of Defense to remove those assets, such as plaques, battle streamers and statues.
The Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery is due to be removed and relocated as a part of the Naming Commission’s directive. Before it can be moved, the cemetery is asking for public commentary for the next 30 days, to get input on "alternatives that will avoid, minimize or mitigate adverse effects of the monument's removal."
It’s a monument that has a long history, and is steeped in controversy. After the Spanish-American War of 1898, President William McKinley toured the American South and was shown the graves of Confederate veterans, which he found to be in terrible condition. He decided he would allow the Federal government to start taking care of the graves.
The war had revived a sense of national unity in the decades after the end of Reconstruction and some of the deep wounds had healed. So when McKinley was presented with a petition to create a Confederate section of the cemetery and allow the scattered graves of Confederates to be moved to the new section, he approved the measure.
Congress passed the appropriate legislation in 1900, and fundraising and planning began in 1904. The designer, a Confederate veteran and renowned sculptor Moses Jacob Ezekiel, created a 32-foot-tall bronze statue of a woman holding a laurel wreath, a plow stock and a pruning hook. The woman, representing “the South,” however, isn’t controversial. The 32 figures depicted on the base are much more controversial.
According to the cemetery’s website, “Two of these figures are portrayed as African American: an enslaved woman depicted as a ‘Mammy,’ holding the infant child of a white officer, and an enslaved man following his owner to war. An inscription of the Latin phrase ‘Victrix causa diis placuit sed victa Caton’ (‘The victorious cause was pleasing to the gods, but the lost cause to Cato’) construes the South’s secession as a noble ‘Lost Cause.’ This narrative of the Lost Cause, which romanticized the pre-Civil War South and denied the horrors of slavery, fueled white backlash against Reconstruction and the rights that the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments (1865-1870) had granted to African Americans.”
Regardless of the depictions on the base, the monument is honoring the Confederate States of America, and the Naming Commission ordered Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to remove it. There are, however, certain processes the facility must undergo before it can be removed. One of those is opening it up for public comment.
"The removal of the Confederate Memorial must be conducted in a manner that ensures the safety of the people who work at and visit ANC and that protects surrounding graves and monuments. The entire process, including disposition, must occur according to applicable laws, policies, and regulations," according to the notice on the Confederate Monument removal website.
To comment on the removal, visit the Arlington National Cemetery’s Confederate Memorial Removal Website and fill out the form by Sept. 2, 2023.