A federal judge on Tuesday cleared the way for the removal of a Confederate memorial from Arlington National Cemetery, just one day after a temporary restraining order had halted the plan to move one of the most prominent monuments to the Confederacy from the nation’s most famous burial ground.
The memorial has been criticized for its sanitized depiction of slavery, and its removal is part of a military-wide effort to take down Confederate symbols from bases, ships and other facilities. Dozens of Republican lawmakers have opposed removing the memorial.
In his ruling, Judge Rossie David Alston Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found that a group called Defend Arlington had failed to show that it is in the public interest for the monument to stay and that its claims that nearby graves were at risk of damage were “misinformed or misleading.”
At a hearing earlier in the day, Judge Alston said that he had toured the site and “saw no desecration of any graves,” according to The Associated Press.
“The grass wasn’t even disturbed,” he said.
The disassembly of the memorial was stopped on Monday after Defend Arlington, which is affiliated with an organization called Save Southern Heritage Florida, requested a restraining order. The group had filed a lawsuit on Sunday against the Defense Department, claiming that the decision to take down the monument was rushed and that the work to remove it would damage the surrounding graves and headstones.
The memorial, which was funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, 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 Black people.
One is of a Black woman holding the child of a Confederate officer, and the other is of a man “following his owner to war,” according to the cemetery’s description.
The removal process will continue immediately, said Kerry L. Meeker, a spokeswoman for the cemetery, in an emailed statement.
“While the work is performed, surrounding graves, headstones and the landscape will be carefully protected by a dedicated team, preserving the sanctity of all those laid to rest,” she said.
The memorial is expected to be removed by Friday, Dec. 22, Ms. Meeker said. It will then be stored in a secure facility “until the final disposition has been determined.”
“While we respect the Court’s decision, we continue to believe the evidence shows that in its haste to remove the Reconciliation Memorial, the DoD failed to conduct the reviews mandated by law regarding historic preservation and environmental impacts,” John Rowley, a lawyer for Defend Arlington, said in an emailed statement.
More than 40 Republican members of Congress signed a letter last week that argued that the memorial did not commemorate the Confederate States of America but rather the “reconciliation and national unity” between North and South.
But to others, including the members of the Naming Commission, the intricate images and inscriptions etched into bronze venerate the narrative of the Lost Cause, the myth that the South’s rebellion was a noble fight for states’ rights. The United Daughters, composed of descendants of men who had served in the armed forces or government of the Confederacy, raised money for the memorial and scores of others that presented a romanticized view of the Confederacy and a sanitized take on slavery, historians say.
Alison Parker, a historian at the University of Delaware, said that these types monuments, which were put up in the early 20th century, were about a “certain kind of reification of a nostalgia that’s based on the notion that slavery wasn’t really that bad, that people weren’t really hurt by it, and that, in fact, it was part of this so-called happy family on the plantation.”
Professor Parker said that there’s “a misconception about the notion that these monuments need to be preserved as a representation of history in that they’re historical and thus should remain.”
“In some cases, I think it’s OK to take down these kinds of monuments because they still carry hurtful meanings today,” she said.
Rebecca Carballo and Orlando Mayorquin contributed reporting.