Workers prepare a Confederate Memorial for removal in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., on Dec. 18, 2023. (Kevin Wolf/AP Photo)
A federal judge has temporarily halted the removal of a Confederate war memorial from Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) in northern Virginia.
ANC—which is operated by the Department of the Army—announced over the weekend that it planned to remove the Confederate memorial in accordance with a Congressional mandate that called for renaming or removing Confederate references throughout the U.S. military. The Department of the Army indicated plans to have the monument fully removed from ANC by Dec. 22, and initial work to begin the removal process started on Dec. 18.
However, this work was halted when U.S. District Judge Rossie Alston issued a temporary restraining order later in the day.
A group called Defend Arlington, which is affiliated with a group called Save Southern Heritage Florida, filed a lawsuit in a federal court on Sunday, requesting the restraining order. The monument’s removal, the group warned, “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.”
The statue was first unveiled in 1914, and features a bronze woman on a 32-foot pedestal. The woman is crowned with olive leaves and is meant to represent the American South. The woman holds a laurel wreath, a plow stock, and a pruning hook. A Biblical inscription at the bottom reads, “They have beat their swords into plough-shares and their spears into pruning hooks.”
The statue also features a black woman holding what is said to be the child of a white officer, and an enslaved man following his owner to war.
Prior to beginning the removal work, ANC officials said they had completed a comprehensive assessment for the memorial’s removal and relocation. Cemetery officials had claimed that workers would be able to disassemble and remove the monument from ANC without disturbing the surrounding landscape, graves, and headstones at the cemetery.
The cemetery’s assessment entailed relocating the monument’s bronze elements but leaving its granite base and foundation in place to avoid disturbing surrounding graves. Republican Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin had been at odds with the statue’s removal, but had planned to facilitate its relocation to the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park, located in the Shenandoah Valley, according to a spokeswoman for the governor.
Recognizing Defend Arlington’s concerns about potential damage to the monument, Judge Alston granted the restraining order and scheduled a Wednesday hearing to consider the matter further. In a footnote on his order, Alston wrote that he “takes very seriously the representations of officers of the Court and should the representations in this case be untrue or exaggerated the Court may take appropriate sanctions.”
Statue’s Removal Was Challenged by GOP Lawmakers, Lawsuit
The monument’s removal was initially recommended by an independent commission in 2022, after it submitted a final report to Congress on the renaming of military bases and assets that commemorate the Confederacy. A congressional commission had previously decided the memorial met the criteria for removal.
The statue’s removal had proven politically divisive even before deconstruction work began on Monday.
Over 40 House Republicans recently sent a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, accusing the commission of exceeding its authority by recommending the monument’s removal. The motion to block the monument’s removal was spearheaded by U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.).
In the letter, the members of Congress argued that the monument “does not honor nor commemorate the Confederacy,” but instead represents “reconciliation and national unity,” adding that “the Department of Defense must respect Congress’ clear legislative intentions regarding the Naming Commission’s legislative authority.”
The initiative to rename military installations linked to Confederate figures came during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. Congress subsequently created the Naming Commission, which proceeded to visit the sites and reportedly met with members of the local community for further input.
A lawsuit filed earlier this year, however, stated that public input for the removal of the Arlington monument was insufficient. The lawsuit also alleged removal of the monument was illegal due to it serving as a grave marker for Confederates buried at the site. That lawsuit was dismissed earlier this month, despite several other groups petitioning for the monument to remain, according to The Washington Post.
The cost for the monument’s removal stands at around $3 million, the Post reported.
The Arlington monument is not the only military installation that has faced scrutiny over its connections to the Confederacy. A recent initiative by the Department of Defense saw Fort Bragg in North Carolina being renamed Fort Liberty. It was originally named after Gen. Braxton Bragg, a Confederate general from Warrenton, North Carolina.
The Associated Press contributed to this article
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