"The Lost Cause" painting became an iconic image of a Confederate soldier returning to a devastated homestead, not to a plantation's mansion house
Source: Morris Museum of Art, The Lost Cause (by Henry Mosler, 1869)
Even before the Civil War ended, the first monuments were erected in Virginia to honor the soldiers and battles in which they fought. Union soldiers built monuments at Henry Hill and at Deep Cut to commemorate the First and Second Battles of Manassas.
The first large celebration of Memorial Day was held at Arlington National Cemetery in 1868. That event was organized by the Union veteran organization called the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), but it was triggered as a Northern response to Southern women in Columbus, Georgia and elsewhere decorating graves of Confederate soldiers.
The New York Times observed in 1868:1
Confederate soldiers were valorized on monuments erected 50 years after the Civil War ended, such as this one at Bland County Courthouse
Within Virginia, almost all Civil War-related memorials and statues honored just Confederate soldiers and sailors. Statues and monuments to honor Confederates have been erected on the lawns of nearly every Virginia county and city courthouse, typically to honor "our dead" and to list the names of local units that fought in the Confederate Army.
The statue to "Stonewall" Jackson was placed on the grounds of the Virginia Capitol in 1875, but most of the monuments were installed between 1890-1920 when the veterans were aging and wanted to ensure their remembrance. The statues to Confederate leaders on Richmond's Monument Avenue were erected between 1890-1929.
When the statue of Robert E. Lee was unveiled on Monument Avenue in 1890, the Richmond Planet was the primary newspaper for the local black community. The editor, John Mitchell Jr., was also a city alderman representing the Jackson Ward. He abstained from the vote when the city appropriated funding for the statue, and wrote presciently in his newspaper:2
The United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) organized in 1894, four years after the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). The two organizations demonstrated that women could occupy the top leadership roles in national heritage organizations, just as they did in the women's suffrage groups.
for over a century, monuments honoring the Confederacy were a feature in nearly every county seat
Source: Library of Congress, Tappahannock, Virginia
Though the United Daughters of the Confederacy maintained graveyards and maintained homes for Confederate veterans and their widows/children, a primary purpose of the organization was to espouse the "Lost Cause" perspective on the causes of the Civil War. In its interpretation of the War Between the States, the significance of slavery as the most important state's right to be retained was diminished. The organization presented other reasons to justify creation of the Confederate States of America and its defeat in 1865, and justified secession as a legal right because the US Constitution was a contract between separate states.
Lyon Gardiner Tyler, the son of former President John Tyler and president of William and Mary College, collected historical documentation using highly-selective criteria that matched the claims of the Lost Cause arguments. He published a Confederate Catechism in 1929 that sought to present the Confederates as equivalent to the liberty-seeking revolutionaries who led the American Revolution.3
the Lost Cause justified secession on moral grounds, separate from the desire of southern states to maintain the institution of slavery
Source: College of William and Mary, A Confederate Catechism (by Lyon Gardiner Tyler, 1929)
A statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond honoring Jefferson Davis was dedicated on June 3, 1907. The General Assembly designated Route 1 as Jefferson Davis Highway in 1922. In 1956, the United Daughters of the Confederacy financed an iron arch for a Jefferson Davis Memorial Park at Fort Monroe. The Confederate President had fled Richmond after General Robert E. Lee abandoned Petersburg in 1865, and was held at Fort Monroe for two years after he was captured in Georgia.
The harsh conditions of his imprisonment while awaiting trial for treason made Davis a sympathetic figure in the South, as reflected in the 1907 and 1922 memorials. The United Daughters of the Confederacy provided funding for a 50-foot high iron arch at Fort Monroe for a different reason than just to remember Jefferson Davis as Secretary of War, or even as Confederate president. In 1956, Virginia was choosing to engage in massive resistance to Federal court orders ending segregation. Honoring the Confederate past was a vehicle for expressing resistance to changing social boundaries, without mentioning racial issues directly.4
During the 1950's and 1960's, segregationists appropriated symbols of the Confederacy and portrayed them very visibly during opposition to the civil rights movement. The symbols, especially the Battle Flag, became clear representations of white resistance to integration. Later efforts to redefine them as symbols of heritage, not hate, were unsuccessful. Some groups, like the Virginia Flaggers, embraced the Battle Flag while recycling the claims in the "Confederate Catechism" that justified secession without acknowledging the role of slavery.
the Virginia Flaggers repeated the Confederate Catechism arguments in 2019
Source: Virginia Flaggers (April 30, 2019)
After the elections of President Obama and then President Trump, the close association between Confederate monuments and white nationalism spurred initiatives to move the historical statues and monuments out of public places of honor.
Until 2020, local governments were constrained in their ability to move Confederate war memorials. In 1904, the General Assembly first granted blanket authority for counties to construct Confederate war memorials in public squares. Prior to that law, local jurisdictions had to obtain special approval from the state legislature to erect such monumnents, since Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. The law prohibited anyone from disturbing the monuments or interfering with those who might be caring for them.
The Code of Virginia was modified in 1988 to authorize memorials for the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War. In 1997, the legislation was amended to grant authority to cities and towns as well as to counties to authorize construction on publicly-owned sites other than public squares, and to commemorate a broader range of past military events.5
the authority for local governments to erect, maintain, or move military monuments is defined in the Code of Virginia
Source: Code of Virginia, Section 15.2-1812. Memorials for war veterans
Those who supported relocation of Confederate monuments emphasized their association with a government that fought for preservation of slavery, plus their association with racist opponents of civil rights starting in the 1950's. Seeing symbols of racism on a regular basis ("monuments that only honor hate") is viewed as unpleasant and even oppressive, since such symbols are supported by the government.
Those who opposed relocation of Confederate monuments objected to changing traditional landscapes, places that were comfortably familiar. Others saw changes as efforts to minimize the role of famous people whose lives were considered significant.
Supporters of leaving monuments in place have also expressed concerns that moving them would be equivalent to erasing history, or rewriting it to be "politically correct" rather than accurate and complete. Some who viewed the Confederate period as a disastrous stage in Virginia's evolution were still opposed to moving the monuments to places of lower visibility, because reducing their visibility might limit opportunities for confronting all the stories of the past. In their view, it is helpful to examine the full breadth of what has happened in the past in order to reach a deep understanding and ultimately reconciliation.
Transferring monuments to historical museums, away from streets and courthouse lawns, moves items that trigger emotions as well as thoughts from daily public view. Those advocating for such changes note that in a historical setting, interpretation can tell a more-complete story of the people and events shown in the stone and bronze. In particular, signage can elaborate on how the monuments were associated with Confederate ideology that justified slavery and subjugation of people of color.
A supporter of adding more monuments to Monument Avenue in Richmond, expanding beyond the statues of Confederate leaders and Arthur Ashe, commented:6
In 2014, the Lord Bishop of London articulated the responsibility for commemorating the past on the 70th anniversary of a German V1 flying bomb destroying the Guards' Chapel at Wellington Barracks in London:7
entering the Tazewell County courthouse requires passing by a monument honoring Confederate soldiers
in East Tennessee, the statue in front of the Green County Courthouse honors the local men who enlisted in the Union army
In 2015, a white racist murdered nine African Americans in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Pictures of him surrounded by Confederate symbols led to a surge in efforts to move the monuments. In Danville, the City Council passed an ordinance on August 6, 2015 declaring that only national, state, city and MIA/POW flags would be permitted on city-owned property. That evening, a city police officer removed the Third National Flag of the Confederacy that had been flown for the last two decades at the Sutherlin Mansion, the "last capitol of the Confederacy."
The Virginia Attorney General facilitated the removal with an opinion that the flag on the grounds of the city-owned mansion was not a war monument. A lawsuit seeking to force the city to reestablish the flag at the Sutherlin Mansion reached the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled 14 months later that the removal was legal.8
As of February 1, 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that nationwide, 114 Confederate monuments had been moved in various states but 1,747 remained in place. Of the 262 items identified in Virginia, 14 had been moved.9
A step in the direction of "telling the whole story" occurred in Richmond when a 10-foot bronze statue of Maggie L. Walker was unveiled in July, 2017. The statue was placed in a plaza at the intersection of Adams Street and Broad Street, the gateway to Jackson Ward. That neighborhood was once the center of the black elite in Richmond, where the doctors and wealthy business leaders congregated.
The city's mayor noted that it was the first monument on city-owned property to recognize a woman. His comments also referenced how he felt about honoring a black woman and expanding the range of statues beyond those of Confederate leaders:10
On February 6, 2017, the Charlottesville City Council decided in a contentious 3-2 vote to remove the 1921 statue of Confederate General Stonewall Jackson from Jackson Park and the 1924 statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from Lee Park. That decision was followed by a unanimous vote to rename Jackson Park as Justice Park. The city also decided to rename Lee Park as Market Street Park, and in a later vote to call that site Emancipation Park.
Gen. Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville (January, 2020)
That led to lawsuits to block the removal of the statues, plus multiple rallies to protest their planned removal. The August, 2017 Unite the Right rally made Charlottesville famous. On the evening of August 11, white nationalists carrying Tiki torches marched through the grounds (campus) of the University of Virginia chanting the Nazi slogan "blood and soil."
On August 12, counter-protestors clashed with the white nationalists at Emancipation Park and the crowd moved towards downtown Charlottesville. A speeding car driven by one of the white nationalists plowed into the counter-protestors, killing one and injuring several others. Two hours later, a State Police helicopter supporting the law enforcement response crashed outside of town, killing the two officers on board.
On August 13, President Trump famously said:11
In response, Governor Terry McAuliffe said Confederate memorials were "flashpoints for hatred, division and violence" and should be moved to museums. Senator Tim Kaine proposed removing statues of Confederate "heroes" from the US Capitol. In 1909, the General Assembly had sent a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee in uniform to the US Capitol for the first of Virginia's two slots for statues in National Statuary Hall. The second space was filled in 1934 with a statue of George Washington, three years after the state of Mississippi had used one of its two slots to install a statue of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis.12
Gen. Robert E. Lee next to Jefferson Davis, in the US Capitol
Source: Library of Congress, Statuary Hall at U.S. Capitol, Washington, D.C. (1934 or 1935)
After the deaths in Charlottesville, city officials covered the Jackson and Lee monuments with black tarps and voted to sell those two statues to the highest bidder who would remove them from the parks. Six months later, a Charlottesville Circuit Court judge ruled that the tarps had to be removed while the lawsuits continued. The judge had issued a temporary injunction blocking removal of the Lee statue, but had been willing to accept a month or two of shrouds covering the monuments as an acceptable period of mourning. The statues were covered up for 188 days until he forced removal of the tarps.
The same state judge later ruled that the city could not claim the monuments were symbols of institutionalized racism rather than war memorials which were protected by state law, and issued a permanent injunction preventing the removal, disturbance, violation or encroachment of the statues. The plaintiffs who sued the city to ensure the monuments remained in place, open to public viewing, were not granted money for damages but the city was required to pay their attorneys' fees.13
In response to the planned removal of the two monuments in Charlottesville, in March 2018 the Virginia Flaggers erected a 120-foot-tall flagpole near I-64 east of the city to display the "battle flag" of the Confederacy. Other such flagpoles have been erected near interstate highways, always on private property, across the state.
Louisa County claimed the Charlottesville Spirt of Defiance I-64 Memorial Battle Flag violated the zoning there, which did not limit the flying of a Confederate flag but set a maximum height of 60' for flagpoles. A year of zoning appeals and lawsuits followed.14
In August 2017, the city councils in Norfolk and Portsmouth decided to move monuments honoring Confederates from their downtown locations to less-visible sites in city-owned cemeteries. One opponent of the proposal suggested that if the Confederate monument was moved, then the monument to Martin Luther King should also be taken to Elmwood Cemetery where the city maintained graves of the Confederate dead.
The Norfolk city council previously had considered moving its monument with a statue of "Johnny Reb" on top, which was erected in 1907. Discussions on moving it in 1927, 1930, 1958, and 2015 never resulted in any action, however.
To create a legal basis for moving Norfolk's monument, the city filed a lawsuit in 2019 claiming the state law created an unconstitutional limit to the right of free speech. The Virginia Attorney General told the court that the Norfolk statue was not protected by the 1904 state law because it applied only to counties until 1997, and when the General Assembly did not make the extension to all localities retroactive.
The Norfolk Commonwealth's Attorney and the Attorney General said in their response to the lawsuit that they would not seek to enforce the state law blocking removal, making it possible for the city to act.15
In 2019, Governor Ralph Northam decided to complete his term rather than resign after his page in a college yearbook depicted a man in "blackface." The governor focused on racial equity, and encouraged removal of Confederate symbols from public places of honor.
He directed the trustees of the Fort Monroe Authority to remove the 50-foot iron arch at the entry to Jefferson Davis Memorial Park, even though it was a contributing element listed in the Fort Monroe National Historic Landmark designation. The arch was built at the time Virginia committed to massive resistance against Federal court requirements to end segregation, and it was not coincidental that the 1956 structure honored the president of the Confederate States of America.
The governor wanted swift action, before the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in English North America. The Fort Monroe Authority removed the letters on August 2, 2019, before the state-sponsored "Commemoration of the First African Landing" began on August 23. The letters were transferred to the Casemate Museum at Fort Monroe, where they could be interpreted within the context of the site's long history.16
the Jefferson Davis Memorial Arch at Fort Monroe, before removal of the letters
Source: Sarah Stierch, Jefferson Davis Memorial Park, Fort Monroe
Across the state, school boards considered adopting new names for schools that honored Confederate leaders such as Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. In 2017, after extensive debate, the Fairfax County School Board changed the name of J.E.B. Stuart High School. The community around the school proposed 73 names. Dropping the "J.E.B." to call the school "Stuart" was the first-place choice for 819 people. Coming in next were variants of Justice Thurgood Marshall or Justice, followed by Barbara Rose Johns.
The community anticipated the clear majority would determine the new name, but the popular vote was nonbinding. The School Board decided to rename J.E.B. Stuart High School as Justice High School. In Richmond, the School Board renamed J.E.B. Stuart Elementary School to Barack Obama Elementary School.17
Source: Fairfax County Public Schools, Justice HS Rededication Ceremony 2018
Arlington County decided in 2019 to rename a road named after the political leader of the Confederacy. All of Route 1 within Virginia had been designated Jefferson Davis Highway in 1922 by the General Assembly.
Cities had the authority to manage their roads, and within Alexandria the stretch of Route 1 was renamed Richmond Highway. The renaming process within the city involved three-year debate before new signs for "Richmond Highway" were installed at the start of 2019. Under Virginia's Dillon Rule, Arlington officials lacked the authority to name roads within the county. County officials anticipated difficulty in gettting approval by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, but then the Attorney General ruled that the Commonwealth Transportation Board (appointed by the Democratic governor) had the authority to allow the name change.
Governor Ralph Northam, who was committed to addressing issues regarding race and equity and a scandal in which he was revealed to have worn "blackface" while in medical school, endorsed the change:18
between January-September 2019, Arlington and Alexandria had different names for Route 1
Source: ESRI, ArcGIS Online
Though Arlington renamed Route 1 after authorization by the Commonwealth Transportation Board, online mapping tools implemented the change on different schedules. GoogleMaps made the switch from Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway in January 2019, nine months before the change became official. In February 2020, MapQuest still labelled the road using the name of the former president of the Confederate States of America.19
MapQuest was slow in renaming Jefferson Davis Highway to Richmond Highway, within Arlington County
Source: MapQuest (as of February 23, 2020)
Arlington's supervisors also decided to rename Washington-Lee High School. The name had been used for 95 years, but after the 2019 class graduated it was called Washington-Liberty High School. That name change cost $250,000, one-third for replacing signs and the rest for "soft costs" such as uniforms.
Staunton changed the name of Robert E. Lee High School back to Staunton High School, the name used before 1914. Staunton also made the shift right after the 2019 class graduated. The school sold outdated "Robert E. Lee" athletic uniforms and gear as surplus items to the general public.20
what was once Robert E. Lee High School in Staunton was renamed in 2019
Source: Staunton High School
in August 2019, GoogleMaps still identified Staunton's high school as "Robert E. Lee High School"
Not every local jurisdiction chose to alter names or monuments of Confederates. At the same time Arlington County was dropping "Lee" from the name of a high school, Frederick County decided to preserve the 1916 Confederate statue on the Loudoun Street Mall in front of the 1840 county courthouse. The county transferred ownership of the statue and the former courthouse to the Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation. As part of the deal, the county and the non-government organization signed a 200-year agreement to operate a museum in the former courthouse and to preserve the statue in its existing location.21
The November 2019 elections shifted control of the General Assembly. For the first time in two decades, Democrats gained control of the House of Delegates and the State Senate. They passed legislation in 2020, 52-43 in the House of Delegates and 25-15 in the State Senate, that authorized local governments to determine the fate of Confederate monuments within their jurisdictions. Governor Northam, a fellow Democrat, signed the legislation without proposing any modifications.
The law specifically changed the relevant part of the Code of Virginia to replace "War Between the States" with "Civil War," created a commission to propose a replacement for the statue of General Robert E. Lee provided by Virginia in 1909 to Statuary Hall in the US Capitol, and established a public involvement process that granted new power to local elected officials:22
The legislation also made one exemption, to ensure no changes to the statues and plaques at the Virginia Military Institute:23
the Virginia Flaggers erected a tall flagpole on private land near I-95 at Chester to display the battle flag of the Confederacy
Source: Facebook, Virginia Flaggers
a Confederate soldier's dog was the first to mark the site of his death, in the 1864 Battle of Winchester
Source: Archive.org, Frank Leslie's illustrated history of the Civil War (p.446)
the Town of Remington removed the Confederate flag from the town seal in 2020
Source: Town of Remington
in 1909 Virginia provided a statue of General Robert E. Lee, to accompany George Washington as the two people the state chose to honor in Statuary Hall of the US Capitol
Source: Architect of the Capitol, Robert E. Lee