(ARLINGTON, Va.) — A federal judge ruled Tuesday to allow a Confederate memorial to be removed from Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia after it was halted amid a temporary restraining order submitted by protesting groups.
The removal of the Confederate memorial is congressionally mandated to be removed by Jan. 1, 2024, according to the Army National Military Cemeteries, which is heading the removal procedures at Arlington.
“Plaintiffs have not alleged facts that support the premise that Defendants intend to “destroy” rather than “remove” the Memorial,” said District Judge Rossie D. Alston, Jr. in his opinion. “The parties discussed at oral argument that the Memorial will likely end up reconstituted at another site. Moreover, Plaintiffs had no answer regarding how the deconstruction and removal of the Memorial in the manner planned would result in irreparable harm, given that it appears that the Memorial can be reconstructed at a later time if Plaintiffs ultimately succeed in the claims.”
A congressional commission in 2021 required the removal “of all names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America … or any person who served voluntarily with the Confederate States of America” from all assets of the Department of Defense.
This does not include headstones, markers and burial receptacles buried at the cemeteries, according to the commission’s final report to Congress.
The Reconciliation Monument at the heart of this legal battle is said to offer “a nostalgic, mythologized vision of the Confederacy, including highly sanitized depictions of slavery,” the Arlington National Cemetery states on its website.
Two of the 32 life-sized figures are depictions of African Americans — one is an enslaved woman depicted as the stereotype of a “Mammy” holding an infant of a white officer, while the other is an enslaved man following “his owner to war,” the cemetery states.
The cemetery said the inscription on the monument — “The victorious cause was pleasing to the gods, but the lost cause to Cato” — portrays the South’s succession as a noble “Lost Cause.” This narrative is said to have “denied the horrors of slavery” and “fueled white backlash against Reconstruction” and the rights later granted to African Americans, according to the cemetery.
Protesters against the removal argue that “while racism is real and white supremacist violence is real, the demolition of monuments is not an effective gesture in combating these issues,” one petition against the removal stated.
Groups such as Defend Arlington and Save Southern Heritage Florida have sued to stop the removal of the monument.
U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell in D.C. dismissed an initial lawsuit from the groups on Dec. 12, who later also denied the group’s request for an emergency stay against the monument’s removal.
Howell argued that because the Army has made its plans for removal known for three years and that “the ’emergency’ nature of plaintiffs’ request … is one of plaintiffs’ own creation.”
The groups then filed a complaint on Dec. 17 for temporary injunctive relief to halt the removal in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Of Virginia.
“The removal will desecrate, damage, and likely destroy the Memorial longstanding at ANC as a grave marker and impede the Memorial’s eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places,” read the complaint.
The complaint argued that the government’s “insistence on pressing forward with their removal has and will cause severe damage to the Memorial and the families of its creator and those buried there.”
The cemetery said the surrounding landscape, graves and headstones will be protected amid the removal process.
Alston initially ruled on Monday that the Defense Department and its contractors are temporarily prevented “from taking any acts to deconstruct, tear down, remove, or alter the object of this case — the Confederate Reconciliation Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery and the surrounding gravesites — pending further action of this Court.”
The court later ruled to vacate the temporary restraining order against the monument’s removal and allow the process to move forward.
The Department of Defense declined to comment on the litigation. The monument was initially anticipated to be removed completely by Dec. 22.
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