Farewell to the Lost Cause

In the United States we have 7 times as many monuments to confederate generals than we do to our founding fathers. More than 100 confederate monuments have been removed but over 1,700 Confederate monuments and other symbols still exist in public spaces across the nation. The majority of confederate monuments were donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy during the Jim Crow era and again during Civil Rights, with donations peaking in 1890–1920 and 1950–1965. UDC members also spent many years on school boards and city councils throughout the south. They used the power of these positions to create the lost cause propaganda machine, erecting monuments at every site they could locate in the United States and regulating curriculum and history books in schools and libraries. The UDC supported the KKK publicly until 1936. The monuments and symbols they installed do not tell us the history of the Civil War. They tell us the history of white supremacy.

In 1869 Robert E. Lee was asked by the Gettysburg Battlefield Memorial Association to attend a planning meeting for the park. He declined, stating “I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.” They did not honor his request and in 1917 the monument to Lee was erected with the help of his niece, a UDC member. Today there are 230 monuments to Lee, more than any other general. His descendent Lee J. Carter is currently a Virginia politician who supports and celebrates the removal of confederate monuments.

The process of removal for public Confederate monuments can be difficult. Often the city council is responsible but beginning in 2000, state laws started being passed that restrict or prohibit the removal or alteration of public monuments. Then what do we do when we remove them? People disagree over what the fate of these monuments should be, whether they should be removed or moved, destroyed or contextualized. I find myself on the side of those who believe the monuments should be destroyed and their broken parts left behind as the ruins of the defeated civilization they represent.

Link to the photographs and their stories: Farewell to The Lost Cause

Resources:

Make It Right Project was founded in 2018 to encourage removal of Confederate monuments

Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy” Southern Poverty Law Center Includes a map of monuments removed and still standing and ways to get involved.

Confederate Statues and Memorialization. W.Fitzhugh brundage, Karen L. Cox, Gary W. Gallagher, Nell Irvin Painter in conversation with Catherine Clinton. University of Georgia Press.

Robert E. Lee opposed Confederate Monuments” PBS

Mitch Landrieu’s speech on the removal of confederate monuments

Letter from University of Texas president Gregory L. Fenves

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