The campaign against Confederate statues rages on in Maryland, this time out west at a historic Civil War battlefield.
Last Friday, former Lt. Gov. and current U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown introduced a bill in Congress that calls for the ouster of a 24-foot-tall monument to Confederate general Robert E. Lee, which sits on federal land at Antietam National Battlefield in Washington County.
The statue depicts Lee holding a pair of binoculars while mounted on a horse. It was commissioned and placed there by a private citizen in 2003, when the parcel was privately owned land, but the federal government acquired the property two years later. Now, in 2017, several of Maryland’s Democratic congressmen are calling for its removal.
“Public land should not be home to symbols of hate and bigotry that memorialize leaders of the pro-slavery, traitorous Confederate South,” said Brown in a statement. “Statues and monuments ought to celebrate the brave individuals who have fought and died for our country and true American values. The statue of Lee commemorates a man that owned and beat African Americans, and fought to preserve the institution of slavery.”
Brown’s fellow freshman congressman, Rep. Jamie Raskin, co-sponsored the bill, as did third-term Maryland Rep. John Delaney.
Delaney suggested such monuments should be placed only in spots with appropriate historical context to explain that they celebrate slaveholders or people who defended the Lost Cause.
“The history of this piece, which now resides on this sacred ground, certainly makes it clear it was recently erected by a private citizen out of pro-Confederacy enthusiasm and not to provide historical context or under the direction of a battlefield historian,” he said in a statement.
Also at issue are some factual errors with the monument. For one, Lee injured his wrist before the Battle of Antietam in September 1862 and traveled to the battlefield in an ambulance, rather than by horse.
Perhaps more importantly, the statue’s affixed plaque says Lee was “was personally against secession and slavery, but decided his duty was to fight for his home and the universal right of every people to self-determination.” In reality, Lee owned and ordered beatings of his own slaves and, as one historian told The New York Times, “unlike some white southerners, he never spoke out against slavery.”
(His views were nuanced: he wrote in a letter to his wife in 1856 that slavery was “a moral & political evil in any Country,” but also oddly called it “a greater evil to the white man than to the black race,” and said the “painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction.”)
At least one local politician in Western Maryland disagrees with the Democratic congressional trio’s plan. Republican Del. Neil Parrott, who represents southern Washington County, told The Hagerstown Herald-Mail his constituents generally oppose the federal bill, and accused the Washington-based lawmakers of advantageous partisandship.
“Instead of trying to unify this country, they’re dividing it for their own political gain,” Parrott told the paper.
Then again, even if both houses of Congress do approve Brown’s bill, it would still head to the desk of President Donald Trump, who’s positioned himself as a protector of monuments to the Confederate legacy. He’s even gone so far as to say leaders who’ve had such monuments torn down are “weak, weak people.”
Clearly, there’s a long road ahead for the rookie federal lawmaker’s bill concerning Antietam.
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