Update – 12/20/2023:
US District Court Judge Rossie Alston of the Eastern District of Virginia has ruled that the removal of the Confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery can proceed.
In his ruling, the judge noted how the plaintiffs, Defend Arlington, weren’t petitioning against how the statue was being removed, but rather its overall removal. He added that the group had failed to both define how it was in the public’s best interest to keep the memorial standing and prove that they were “likely to suffer irreparable harm” as a direct result of its removal.
Alston was the judge to initially pause the Confederate monument’s removal from Arlington National Cemetery upon receiving the initial complaint, which raised concerns over the possibility that nearby graves could be damaged. He visited the cemetery and was satisfied with the precautions being taken to prevent this from occurring.
Most interesting were his comments regarding the significance behind the statue’s removal. He declared:
“This case essentially attempts to place this Court at the center of a great debate between individuals extolling the virtues, romanticism and history of the Old South and equally passionate individuals, with government endorsement, who believe that art accentuating what they believe is a harsh depiction of a time when a certain race of people were enslaved and treated like property is not deserving of a memorial at a place of refuge, honor and national recognition.
“To be sure, this Court’s disposition does not have to resolve this great debate but rather is decided on the relevant case law, statutory law and administrative direction which governs this Court’s decision.”
Update – 12/18/2023:
A judge has issued an injunction to temporarily halt the removal of the Confederate monument that stands over a section of Arlington National Cemetery.
According to The New York Times, the news came down just hours after workers began removing the statue, at the request of Defend Arlington. The group sued the Department of Defense in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on December 17, 2023, not long after it was announced the memorial would be taken down.
Defend Arlington argued the government had “circumvented federal law by not preparing an environmental-impact statement,” and raised concerns over the possible damage the removal could cause to the surrounding gravestones. Speaking with The New York Times, a spokesperson with Arlington National Cemetery said, “The Army is complying with the restraining order and has ceased the work begun this morning.”
After it was announced the Confederate monument would be removed from Arlington National Cemetery, safety fences were erected around its perimeter. The original plan was to have it completely taken down by December 22.
The announcement was met with ire from politicians, with over 40 Republican Congressmen demanding that the Pentagon pause its efforts to remove the memorial. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin also shared his concerns over its removal, and his spokesperson said that he plans to have it moved to the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park in the Shenandoah Valley.
A hearing regarding the injunction is slated to occur at 10:00 AM on December 20, 2023. If the monument’s removal is allowed to continue, it will be placed in storage until its fate is determined.
A Confederate bronze and granite statue that overlooks a portion of Arlington National Cemetery is among the monuments being recommended for removal by the Congressional Naming Commission. The memorial was erected in 1914 after the reinterment of White Southern troops who lost their lives fighting in the American Civil War.
The monument in question depicts Southerners heading off to fight in the Civil War, followed by their slaves, one of whom is carrying a soldier’s baby. It’s topped with the statue of a woman wearing a crown of olive leaves and carrying a laurel wreath, pruning hook and plow stock. She’s intended to represent the American South, and below her is a Biblical inscription, which reads, “They have beat their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
Beneath is a circular base of shields, featuring the coats of arms of the 11 Confederate states, Maryland, Kentucky and Missouri. They’re located near a Latin inscription, which translates to, “The victorious cause was pleasing to the gods, but the lost cause to Vato.” This equates the South’s failure to seceed to a noble “lost cause.”
Around 1900, White Southern troops began to be reinterred at Arlington National Cemetery. The graves were initially segregated, with Black troops “buried alongside former slaves and poor Whites.” This remained until 1948, when US President Harry Truman desegregated the cemetery, by way of Executive Order.
The Commission on the Naming of Items of the Department of Defense That Commemorate the Confederate States of America or Any Person Who Served Voluntarily with the Confederate States of America – better known as the Naming Commission – has now recommended that the monument be stripped and removed from Arlington National Cemetery. It will list the monument among other Confederate memorials in its final report to Congress, which is due on October 1, 2022.
“It is problematic from top to bottom,” said retired Brig. Gen. Ty Seidule, who serves as the Naming Commission’s vice chair.
The commission has been working to create a list of Confederate monuments that should be removed. They’ve also been working on a list of US military equipment and installations that should be renamed, and the report will also suggest that the US Military Academy West Point and the US Naval Academy remove the names of Confederate leaders from buildings on their campuses.
Monuments related to both Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson and Robert E. Lee have been taken down in recent years. This includes statues of Lee in Charlottesville and Richmond, Virginia. The state saw some of the biggest demonstrations during the Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests in 2020.
The Naming Commission was created following the passing of a law by Congress in December 2020. The initiative, which is slated to cost an estimated $62 million, has been working diligently since then to decide which Confederate monuments and memorials should be changed and/or removed. The changes listed in the commission’s final report are expected to begin in early 2024.