Marmaduke is one of four Confederates buried at the base of the section’s towering centerpiece: a 32-foot-high bronze monument of a white female figure with a frieze below depicting an enslaved black woman — a “Mammy,” according to the cemetery — clutching the infant of a white soldier.
McCormick, now 36, was appalled. “I do remember that feeling of shame, deep, physical shame in my heart,” said McCormick, a brand strategy consultant based in London. “The monument, unequivocally, should be gone.”
But her father, James McCormick, a 73-year-old commercial and residential real estate developer, does not agree. Instead of removing the memorial, he said, “I wonder whether we might not end up with a more enduring lesson for the nation if we added a very substantial plaque adjacent to the Arlington monument so the public can look at its friezes, which in some cases are horrifying, but in others, just examples of how a nation praised a moment.”
Confederate memorials have been under attack since hundreds of white supremacists descended on Charlottesville in 2017 to protest the removal of a statue of Gen. Robert E. Lee — a gathering that ended with one counterprotester dead and dozens of others wounded.
The fervor has intensified since George Floyd stopped breathing beneath the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer, with more than two dozen Confederate memorials removed by local authorities or yanked down by protesters. On Wednesday, Richmond removed a statue of Gen. Stonewall Jackson on Monument Avenue in the former capital of the Confederacy.
For those with rebel relatives buried at Arlington Cemetery, closed to the public except for family pass holders and funeral attendees since March, the news stories about Confederate statues coming down have triggered opposing reactions: Some descendants worry the monument at the nation’s most prestigious burial ground will be carted away; others hope that’s exactly what will happen.
The cemetery’s superintendent, Charles “Ray” Alexander Jr., said in a statement that neither he nor the cemetery’s executive director, Karen Durham-Aguilera, has any authority over the memorial. He said the cemetery would follow the Pentagon’s orders. An Army spokeswoman said the military branch “is working with the Defense Department on guidance for display of divisive symbols” and “any review would include this memorial.” But President Trump has denounced the removal of Confederate memorials and vowed to veto this year’s proposed $740 billion defense bill if it includes an amendment to rename 10 bases named after Confederate generals.
Not even the descendants of the sculptor who made Arlington’s Confederate memorial — Moses Ezekiel, a Confederate soldier buried at the base of his artwork — say they believe the monument should remain. After The Washington Post published an article about the monument following the violence in Charlottesville, nearly two dozen members of the extended Ezekiel family sent a letter to The Post calling for its transfer to a museum “that makes clear its oppressive history.”
Micki McElya, author of a 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist book on the cemetery’s history, agrees the Confederate monument should be removed. In its place, she suggested panels that chronicle Section 16′s origins and explain the monument’s celebration of white supremacy.
“The monument is a very aggressive attempt to present a Lost Cause and pro-Confederate version of the Civil War,” McElya said. “The narrative is so toxic and so representative of the many facets of violence against black people and black histories in this country. The act of removing the monument would be the act of the nation saying this is a lie about the past and this lie about the past reinforces contemporary inequalities that don’t have a place in this field of honor.”
‘In the spirit of fraternity’
Arlington exists because of the Civil War. Union authorities seized the property from Lee and his wife, Mary Custis Lee, in May 1861, and the site was established as a Civil War burial ground in 1864. After the war, many Confederate families were barred from entering the property to visit loved ones buried there.
Determined to bring back the remains of their husbands and sons, groups of Southern women mobilized to gather the dead from Arlington and other cemeteries and battlefields so the bodies could be interred in the South. They wanted nothing to do with Arlington.
By the end of the 1898 Spanish-American War, though, when former Confederate and Union soldiers fought and died side-by-side, reconciliation became the paramount concern. President William McKinley promised in a speech in Atlanta that “the time has now come … when in the spirit of fraternity we should share with you in the care of the graves of Confederate soldiers.”
Soon, Confederate veterans demanded their brethren be exhumed and reinterred in a special section exclusively for Confederate veterans, according to Robert M. Poole’s book “On Hallowed Ground.”
Congress quickly passed the legislation, and the president signed the law on June 6, 1900.
For the first time, the Confederate dead would enjoy the same honors as their Union counterparts: a marble or granite headstone 36 inches high, 10 inches wide and 4 inches thick. But with one difference: Instead of their headstones being rounded at the top, each marker would be pointed in the center.
One other distinction: Rather than being arrayed in long lines, the Confederate tombstones would be ringed in concentric circles around a central point, the eventual site of Ezekiel’s 32-foot monument.
By 1901, the first Confederates were laid to rest in Section 16. Years later, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which was in charge of selecting a memorial, initially considered a monument honoring Lee, who died in 1870.
But when the women chose Ezekiel, a Richmond native and Virginia Military Institute graduate, as the sculptor, they abandoned a Lee memorial.
Ezekiel, who had a studio in Rome, was given free rein. The monument’s centerpiece — a woman dressed in classical attire clad in an olive wreath, leaning on a plow and hook — was meant to symbolize the South. Below her sits a frieze featuring life-size figures of the South, including soldiers bravely facing battle. The most inflammatory section: two depictions of black people, one of an enslaved black man faithfully following his master into war and another of an enslaved black woman holding a Confederate soldier’s white infant boy.
“The statue is particularly egregious because it’s trying to show that black enslaved people were complicit in the Confederacy — and in their own enslavement,” said Judith Ezekiel, a professor emeritus at Wright State University in Ohio who is a member of the sculptor’s extended family and co-authored the letter three years ago asking for the statue’s removal.
On June 4, 1914, Ezekiel’s monument was unveiled in a rainy ceremony presided by President Woodrow Wilson, whose administration was segregating the federal civil service and rooting out black people from managerial roles. (Wilson’s alma mater, Princeton University, which he led as its 13th president, just declared him a racist and removed his name from its prominent public policy school and one of its residential dormitories.)
“I am not so much happy as proud to participate in this capacity on such an occasion; proud that I should represent such a people,” Wilson said. “This chapter in the history of the United States is now closed.”
‘That history is alive and well’
Even though the Confederacy fought to maintain slavery and protect slaveholders, many descendants of Confederate veterans buried in Section 16 say they don’t believe the monument’s cause is racist and they think it should stay.
“Before anyone pulls down the statue in Arlington, I would stand in front of the monument to protect it. That’s what a lot of other people would do, too,” said Armand Vasco, 74, a retired Veterans Affairs administrator and a great-grandson of Francis “Mockingbird” Angelo, a Confederate soldier buried in Section 16.
At 19, Angelo ran away from college in Missouri to join the Confederate Army in Richmond, according to his obituary. He became a scout in Mosby’s Rangers, a group of Confederate guerrilla fighters who captured enemies and raided Union supplies, largely in Loudoun and Fauquier counties. After the war, he worked for three decades at the Agriculture Department. He died in 1928 at his home in Clarendon, Va., at the age of 87.
Vasco, a Vietnam War veteran who visits Arlington twice a year from his Tennessee home, said the protests against Confederate monuments sweeping the country alarmed him.
“When they started talking about taking down the monuments in Richmond, I told my wife, ‘The next thing you know, they’ll take down the statue in Arlington,’ ” said Vasco, who added that people pelted him with eggs and rotten tomatoes after he served at an Air Force base in Danang, Vietnam. “You can’t erase history.”
Cynthia “Ricki” McKinney, 66, who lives in southwestern Virginia, also believes Section 16 is sacred ground and the monument should remain. Her great-grandfather’s brother was Samuel Moomaw, a private in the Confederate Army’s 7th Regiment Virginia Cavalry who died in his mid-20s in 1863. She cares so much about her ancestor’s grave in Section 16 that when she discovered several years ago the headstone misspelled his last name as “Moorman,” she forced Arlington to fix it.
“I am not proud of the fact that he fought for the Confederacy. My family would not be proud of me for saying that,” McKinney said. “But in honor of what he did, what he was willing to do, he should be respected. He was a man doing what he thought was right. He had no slaves.”
The McCormick family, though, is still reckoning with the legacy of its ancestor, Henry Marmaduke, a Confederate naval captain buried in Section 16. His father, Meredith Marmaduke, and brother John Marmaduke were governors of Missouri.
Although Meredith Marmaduke owned at one point more than two dozen enslaved people, he considered himself a Unionist, against the wishes of his Confederate children. James McCormick, his great-great-great-grandson, said a similar schism is playing out again in their family. McCormick, who lives in the Pacific Palisades neighborhood of Los Angeles, believes the monument overlooking Henry Marmaduke’s headstone at Arlington Cemetery should remain, the exact opposite stance of Cary McCormick, his daughter.
“Taking down the monument is not tantamount to erasing history,” she said. “That history is alive and well. I would like to see actual black voices — descendants of enslaved people — having a say about what goes in place of the monument or if anything at all. It can’t be a unilaterally white conversation.”
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