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Is the Confederate Monument in Arlington National Cemetery Headed to the New Market Battlefield?
The Washington Post is now reporting on the agreement between Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Military Institute to accept and relocate the Confederate Monument in Arlington National Cemetery to the New Market Battlefield, which it operates. The Board of Visitors at VMI—all appointed by Gov. Youngkin—unanimously approved the motion to accept the monument.
This story was first reported by Cardinal News, but unfortunately the story was vague on whether Arlington National Cemetery or the U.S. Army were involved in this decision. It turns out, as I suspected, that they were not.
This story seems to be more about Virginia politics as well as internal problems within VMI. In 2020, the school removed its statue of former instructor and Confederate general Stonewall Jackson and relocated it to New Market. Moses Ezekiel, who fought at New Market in 1864, sculpted the state as well as the Confederate monument in Arlington.
More to the point, over the past few years the school has attempted to address internal problems stemming from a history and culture of racial discrimination. The school’s diversity officer was forced to resign earlier this year.
Black cadets -- several of whom reported frequently hearing the N-word or racialized stereotypes from White cadets -- were not the only ones who bore the brunt of slurs. The report said Indian and Asian cadets also told investigators they were called racial slurs.
The Washington Post last year published stories about lynching threats and other racial harassment at VMI, including a photo of Commandant of Cadets Col. William Wanovich posing at a 2017 Halloween party with cadets wearing a border wall costume labeled ‘Trump's Wall’ and ‘No Cholos Allowed.’ In January, the school announced that Wanovich would retire at the end of the academic year.
Investigators also found that ‘VMI maintains an outdated, idealized reverence for the Civil War and the Confederacy.’ Although the school has tried to address this recently, Civil War-era traditions are still prominent.
It’s difficult to see how accepting ownership of a monument steeped in Lost Cause history will help the school move forward on this front, but perhaps that was the epoint of the board’s unanimous vote.
This may, however, be a moot question. As the Post is reporting, as of today there has been no statement from Arlington or the military or any suggestion that the relevant parties will at some point begin discussions. And if you read closely, you get a clear sense of the many hurdles that VMI would have to surmount to gain possession of the monument. In other words, I still don’t think this story has legs.
Don’t get me wrong, I agree with historian Micki McKelya, who was interviewed for this story. I don’t want to see this monument destroyed or placed in permanent storage. It is an incredibly important Lost Cause artifact that has much to teach us. I’ve been bringing student and teacher groups to the monument for over a decade and it is always a rewarding and slightly uncomfortable experience.
That said, it still isn’t clear as to how the monument will be dismantled so as not to disturb nearby graves, including that of Ezekiel himself. Will it be removed as one piece or will it be dismantled by section? In other words, what remains after removal may be a series of panels, plus the statue at the top, rather than anything that looks like a monument.
Perhaps sections of the monument can be dispersed to more than one museum.
Regardless of where it ends up, it is imperative that the museum in question have the resources and commitment to properly interpret the monument for the general public. Looking at the photograph above, I don’t get the sense that the VMI staff at the museum has done anything to interpret the Jackson statue. Not a good sign.
If true, this would be a complete abdication of responsibility in regards to the Arlington monument.
All we can do is wait and see, but the clock is ticking.
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