Workers on Monday began removing a towering Confederate memorial from Arlington National Cemetery, displacing one of the country’s most prominent monuments to the Confederacy on public land.
The removal of the memorial, criticized for its sanitized depiction of slavery, from the country’s most famous cemetery is part of a militarywide effort to take down Confederate symbols from its bases, ships and other facilities. Dozens of Republican lawmakers opposed removing the memorial.
Safety fencing was installed around the memorial over the weekend. A cemetery spokeswoman said it will take several days for the towering bronze statue will be hauled away, making it the latest such monument to be dismantled since the public backlash in 2020 against Confederate statues after the killing of George Floyd.
That movement helped push Congress to establish the Naming Commission in 2021. It was created to devise a plan to rid the military of its statues and monuments commemorating the Confederacy.
The Defense Department mandated that the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery be removed by Jan. 1, 2024.
It will go into storage until its fate is determined, the cemetery spokeswoman said.
More than 40 Republican members of Congress signed a letter last week demanding that Lloyd J. Austin III, the defense secretary, stop the removal. They argued that the memorial, which was funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected in 1914, did not commemorate the Confederate States, but rather the “reconciliation and national unity” between the North and the South.
The memorial, they wrote, was commissioned by the government to honor the “country’s shared reconciliation from its troubled divisions,” and complemented a previous gesture in which Confederate remains were relocated to the national cemetery.
But to others, including the members of the Naming Commission, the intricate images and inscriptions etched into the bronze venerate the narrative of the Lost Cause, a myth that portrays the Confederacy’s rebellion as a noble defense of Southern values and paints slavery as benign.
The memorial features a woman who represents the American South standing atop a 32-foot pedestal, according to the cemetery. Near the base are dozens of life-size Confederate soldiers alongside mythical gods and two enslaved African Americans.
One is a “mammy” holding the child of a Confederate officer, and the other is a man “following his owner to war,” according to the cemetery’s description.
“It’s the clearest example of a Lost Cause statement in a public space in the form of a monument,” said Kevin M. Levin, a Civil War historian who often gives tours of the cemetery. “Most confederate monuments are large equestrian monuments that honor a specific person.”
“I think what the United Daughters of the Confederacy wanted to see in Arlington was a nonapologetic vindication of the Confederacy,” he added, referring to the organization of Southern women who raised money for the memorial.
Since 2020, hundreds of Confederate memorials have been renamed or removed from state and municipal lands. One such monument, a statue of Robert E. Lee astride a horse, was taken down two years ago in Charlottesville, Va.
This year, it was melted down to be repurposed into public art.
Jalane Schmidt, a professor at the University of Virginia who helped lead the campaign to melt that statue, said the argument for removing the Confederate Memorial in Arlington is the same as for any other.
Monuments on public land, she said, “need to tell a story that’s inclusive of everyone and matches up with our democratic values.”
The cemetery will still include monuments to Confederates, in the form of hundreds of graves of fallen soldiers and the Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns, which is believed to contain remains of combatants from both the North and the South.
Rebecca Carballo contributed reporting.