Confederate Statues Aren’t Even Honest About Who They Memorialize
What’s insidious is the way these monuments infect our memories, our relationships, and our beliefs
When I hear the name Robert E. Lee, I think of the year Lee High won the state championship football game. I recall the look on my father’s face when I wrecked my first car off Lee Highway en route to my childhood home. I reminisce about strumming guitar outside the chapel at Washington and Lee University. My friends and I would play John Denver and dance beside the Lee family crypt.
I was born Elizabeth Lee Saylor, a name I’d eventually desert when I abandoned the ideologies and Blue Ridge vistas of my native Dixie.
Many of my fellow Southerners share similar stories of growing up against backdrops brandished with the names of men whose histories were only vaguely known to us. We knew their faces from sepia-toned pictures in museums or chiseled in bronze in a courthouse square, but their stories seemed barely peripheral to our own coming of age in an antebellum landscape.
Which is why it’s not enough to remove their statues; we need to raze every physical vestige. It’s time for their legacies to live exclusively in the pages of history books — not the pages of our family photo albums.
Following the defeat of the Confederacy in 1865, the North made concessions in the spirit of swift reconciliation. Confederate figures thus reaped that leniency and reinvented themselves. They avoided charges of treason and took on new roles in their communities and civic life, architecting Reconstruction that propagated the very policies that were soundly defeated in the war. Indeed, not a single Confederate soldier was executed for insurrection — even Jefferson Davis was jailed only briefly immediately after the end of the Civil War.
As for Robert E. Lee, just months after his surrender to Gen. Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865, he transitioned from military strategist and segregationist to scholar and philanthropist…