Past Is Prologue

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

Elizabeth Métraux
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readJun 24, 2020
The interior of Lee Chapel with Robert E. Lee’s statue.
General Robert E. Lee’s statue inside Lee Chapel in Washington and Lee University with blue USA flag and flag of Coat of Arms of Washington and Lee University in foreground. Photo: Bruce Yuanyue Bi/Getty Images

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.

Onlookers watch cadets from Virginia Military Institute — my brother among them — reenact the Battle of New Market. Part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864, the battle included 4,100 Confederate soldiers who defeated Union Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel and his Army of the Shenandoah. My great-grandmother’s one-room schoolhouse abuts the field.

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…



Elizabeth Métraux
Human Parts

Elizabeth Métraux, founder of Women Writers in Medicine, is a writer, thinker, and seeker of a more fulfilling, connected existence. Follow her @Elizabeth_PCP