Various descendants of Confederate generals — including those who claim Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as their ancestors — have called for Rebel monuments and statues to be removed in the aftermath of violence in Charlottesville.
Now a group claiming ancestry from a Confederate veteran named Moses Jacob Ezekiel, who was a renowned sculptor in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is asking that one of his most prominent works be taken down. It is the Confederate Memorial, a 32-foot-tall monument that stands in Arlington National Cemetery and is notable for its depiction of Rebel soldiers and two enslaved blacks, including a woman described on the cemetery’s website as a “mammy.”
On Thursday night, The Washington Post published a story about the monument. The group critical of the monument includes nearly two dozen people from the extended Ezekiel family who attached their names to a letter sent to The Post.
The group wrote the letter in light of the death of Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old Charlottesville woman. She was killed Saturday while taking part in a counter-demonstration, opposing white nationalists who had come to the city to rally in support of a statue of Lee in a public park. Twenty-two people in the Ezekiel family — ages 20 to 90 — from across the country signed the letter calling for the Confederate Memorial’s removal from Arlington.
“We were all horrified at the Nazi and white supremacist demonstration in Charlottesville,” said Judith Ezekiel, a visiting professor of women’s studies and African American studies at Wright State University in Ohio.
“All of us agree that monuments to the Confederacy are racist justifications of slavery, of owning people,” she said Friday in a telephone interview. “We wanted to say that although Ezekiel is a relative of ours, we still believe it’s a relic of a racist past.”
Historians say Moses Ezekiel was the first Jewish graduate of the Virginia Military Institute. After he died, he was buried at the foot of the Confederate Memorial.
Ezekiel had a studio in Italy and was considered one of the most prominent artists to come out of the South. Two of his statues, depicting Homer and Thomas Jefferson, stand at the University of Virginia. Hundreds of white nationalists surrounded the Jefferson statue last Friday night after marching in a torchlight parade across campus and chanting “You will not replace us” and “Jews will not replace us.” At the statue, they clashed with a small group of U-Va. students who had locked arms in a counterdemonstration.
The Confederate Memorial was placed in Arlington in 1914. It was commissioned and funded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which gave the monument as a gift to the United States. President Woodrow Wilson accepted it during a ceremony at Arlington, describing the memorial as an “emblem of a reunited people.”
But Judith Ezekiel said the family wrote the letter because it felt the monument was in reality a veiled attempt to “rewrite the narrative of the Confederacy . . . as noble and not racist.”
Below is the full Ezekiel family letter provided to The Post:
“One of the most important memorials to the Confederacy is the statue at Arlington National Cemetery, unveiled in 1914. It was sculpted by Moses Jacob Ezekiel, a former Confederate soldier and a prominent sculptor of his time. Ezekiel was our relative.
“Like most such monuments, this statue intended to rewrite history to justify the Confederacy and the subsequent racist Jim Crow laws. It glorifies the fight to own human beings, and, in its portrayal of African Americans, implies their collusion. As proud as our family may be of Moses’s artistic prowess, we — some twenty Ezekiels — say remove that statue. Take it out of its honored spot in Arlington National Cemetery and put it in a museum that makes clear its oppressive history.”