Posted on December 18, 2023

Judge Halts Removal of Confederate Memorial at Arlington Cemetery

Orlando Mayorquin and Rebecca Carballo, New York Times, December 18, 2023

Shortly after workers began removing a towering Confederate memorial from Arlington National Cemetery on Monday, a federal judge issued an order temporarily halting the effort to dismantle one of the country’s most prominent monuments to the Confederacy on public land.


On Monday, as the work to remove the monument was getting underway, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that had been requested by a group called Defend Arlington.

The group, which is affiliated with an organization called Save Southern Heritage Florida, sued the Defense Department in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on Sunday, arguing that the Pentagon had rushed its decision to take down the monument and that it had circumvented federal law by not preparing an environmental-impact statement. It also said that the work would damage the surrounding graves and headstones. A hearing on the matter was scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Safety fencing was installed around the memorial over the weekend. Before the temporary restraining order was issued, a cemetery spokeswoman said it would take several days for the towering bronze statue to be hauled away. It was the latest such monument to be targeted for removal 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 to devise a plan to rid the military of statues and monuments commemorating the Confederacy.

The Defense Department mandated that the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery be removed by Jan. 1, 2024.


The monument stands in a section of the cemetery where the remains of Confederate soldiers are buried. {snip}

More than 40 Republican members of Congress signed a letter last week demanding that Lloyd J. Austin III, the defense secretary, stop the removal of the monument. They argued that the memorial did not commemorate the Confederate States of America but rather the “reconciliation and national unity” between North and 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. 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.”