When Robert E. Lee came off his pedestal in Richmond in September, revealing a dodgy time capsule and then a slightly less dodgy one, nobody was quite sure where he and the horse he rode in on were headed. Would he go into a museum with added context, as Thomas Jefferson did when he left New York’s City Council Chamber? Or to a Confederate States of America safe space, as the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest did? Or just to some nearby shed, like this terrifyingly awful fiberglass Forrest statue?
Thoughtfully enough, the Lee monument will (according to the AP) in fact be handed to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia. Its curators — along with those of the nearby Valentine museum and the community — will decide how to convey and contextualize General Lee’s ownership and violent treatment of human beings. (Or, for that matter, to send him off to the recyclers for scrap value, but museums usually address these issues with a scalpel rather than a smelter.) But there’s one fact in the AP story that stands out like the first magnolia blossom of the spring:
[Mayor] Stoney directed the removal of the city’s Confederate monuments last summer amid the protest movement that erupted after the police killing of George Floyd.
The statues have been in storage since then, at least part of that time at the city’s wastewater plant. Not all of the pedestals have been removed.
As of a year and a half ago, there appeared to be eight or so statues outside the plant, encamped under their tarps like a gray-green squad of the Confederate States Army. But we prefer to think of the scene as the AP seems to describe it: indoors, with a roomful of these stiff-backed bronze gents standing around the sewage pumps, staring past one another’s bayonets. Even by the standards of white-supremacist gatherings, it sounds like the worst cocktail party ever.