Posted on December 20, 2023

Judge Says Removal of Confederate Statue at Arlington Can Proceed

Olivia Diaz et al., Washington Post, December 19, 2023

A day after halting work to remove the Confederate memorial at Arlington National Cemetery, a federal judge in Virginia on Tuesday said he would allow the removal to proceed.

On Tuesday evening, Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled against a request from a group called Defend Arlington that the memorial remain undisturbed.

In an opinion denying a preliminary injunction, Alston wrote that the “case essentially attempts to place this Court at the center of a great debate” between the Confederacy’s detractors and defenders. He found that the group that had sought to stop the removal, Defend Arlington, had not shown it was in the public interest to leave the memorial in place, nor had it shown that adjacent graves were being disturbed by the activity.

The ruling was the latest turn in a long effort to dispense with the divisive statue, which the Army had slated for removal this week.

The memorial, depicting a Black woman holding the baby of a White Confederate officer and an enslaved man accompanying his enslaver into battle, was commissioned in 1914 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. “To our dead heroes,” the monument reads above a Latin saying that praises lost causes.

Last year, the Pentagon directed that the monument be dismantled and its bronze figures removed following the recommendation of a Naming Commission established by Congress to review military facilities celebrating the Confederacy. Defend Arlington unsuccessfully sued in D.C. District Court earlier this year to halt removal of the memorial.

On Sunday, the same group sought another order from the Eastern District of Virginia after equipment was moved into place and the memorial area was blocked off in preparation for work scheduled Monday. Alston issued a temporary restraining order Monday, citing Defend Arlington’s allegation that graves were being disturbed.

At a hearing Tuesday, Alston said he visited the site and checked on whether any freshly dug soil or tire tracks marked the area where people were buried. {snip}

“I saw nothing to suggest anything was being compromised at all,” Alston said during the hearing. {snip}

Attorneys representing Defend Arlington disagreed. Karen C. Bennett said the “respect” that Alston witnessed was inconsistent with what descendants of those interred saw.

Bennett described machinery encroaching on one grave and gravestones being temporarily removed. She also cited the potential for vibrations and moisture to disturb neighboring graves, saying the Defense Department shouldn’t have the power to remove the monument.


Alston rebuffed her.

“I hope you would understand that the illustrations on that memorial may be difficult and hurtful to some people,” Alston said. “We should not be celebrating slavery — that’s what some people believe.”