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The massive 12-ton statue of loser, traitor and slaveowner Robert E. Lee was disassembled after it was removed this week from its pedestal on Monument Ave in Richmond, VA. Photo by Parker Michels-Boyce for The Washington Post via Getty Images

An Unwillingness To Abide Lost Cause Idolatry Any Longer: Robert E. Lee Comes Down At Last

Abby Zimet

After 131 ignoble years, officials in the former capital of the Confederacy have finally taken down the massive 12-ton statue of loser, traitor and slavery zealot Robert E. Lee, who led hundreds of thousands of young Americans to their misbegotten deaths to defend the dubious right of white people to own black people as property. Wednesday's overdue action removed the country's largest monument to the Lost Cause, the last Confederate statue along Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue, and the longtime, incendiary symbol of a southern white nationalism that birthed Jim Crow, the KKK and all the sordid tenets of systemic racism that followed. For many, both Lee and Richmond represent "Ground Zero" for the fight against racism. Contrary to a popular myth of the "kindly general," Lee didn't just viciously beat his own slaves; he also massacred black Union soldiers who tried to surrender at the Battle of the Crater, paraded survivors through the jeering streets, and refused to accept Ulysses Grant' condition for a prisoner exchange that black soldiers - aka “negroes belonging to our citizens" - be exchanged just like white soldiers, thus leaving his own men to suffer. Like other Confederate monuments to white supremacy, Lee's statue - because "a big lie requires a big statue," 21 feet tall atop a 40-foot pedestal - took shape a generation after the war. Erected in 1890, 25 years after his surrender at Appomattox, it told both southern white bigots their fight wasn't over, and southern blacks who was still in charge. Hint: Not them.

After years of efforts by activists, a pair of rulings from Virginia's state Supreme Court finally cleared the way for Wednesday's removal. The only surprise was "how meekly (Lee) surrendered": In under two hours, "A statue that had been a towering fixture was humbly reduced by an unwillingness to abide Lost Cause idolatry any longer." As Lee came down just before 9 a.m., a crowd chanted, "Na na na na, hey hey, hey good-bye." By 10:45, workers had unceremoniously sawed off his torso and begun loading it into a flatbed truck. For now, the statue will go into storage; the pedestal will remain in place during a community-driven effort to "re-imagine" the space, which has long served as a BLM nexus unofficially dubbed the Marcus-David Peters Circle in honor of a Black teacher killed by police. The action was inevitably slammed by a few revisionist crackpots like Laura Ingraham and some old guy trapped at a Florida golf club who decried the loss of the "magnificent" and "genius" Lee; he exclaimed the brutal, racist general was great at everything "except for Gettysburg" - kinda like "except for losing the election" - and deliriously mused, "If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan." Elsewhere, sane, reputable people celebrated the change as a chance to "honor the full and inclusive truth of who we are" - even belatedly, bittersweetly, with much work remaining. MSNBC's Chris Hayes offers a historic look at that long, seesawing battle for multi-racial democracy, from Lee to Reconstruction to Jim Crow to John Lewis to John Roberts' shredding of voting rights and today's ongoing voting suppression efforts; given our enduring racism, he concludes, "No victory in the struggle about the nature of this country is ever final." And Lee, you lose again.


Abby Zimet

Abby Zimet

Abby has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, she moved to the Maine woods in the early 70s, where she spent a dozen years building a house, hauling water and writing before moving to Portland. Having come of political age during the Vietnam War, she has long been involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. 

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