President Trump on Thursday denounced the push to take down Confederate statues and monuments across the country, characterizing it as “the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart.”
During a news conference Tuesday and then in a string of tweets Thursday, Trump decried the removal of statues and equated Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, both Confederate military leaders, with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, two of the country’s Founding Fathers.
Trump’s comments, though, run directly counter to the sentiments expressed by descendants of the same Confederate leaders he name-checked. Relatives of those leaders say they don’t agree that the statues should stay up, particularly after a wave of violence erupted Saturday in Charlottesville.
“If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today,” Robert E. Lee V, who is named for the Confederate general and now lives in Washington, told The Post’s Mike Semel in an interview Thursday. “That’s not what our family is at all interested in and that’s not what we think General Lee would want whatsoever. So if it’s going to cause this kind of hatred and violence, take it down immediately.”
Karen Finney, another descendant of Lee’s, wrote in an essay published by The Washington Post that his legacy doesn’t “deserve to be honored or defended.”
“He’s part of my history and a member of my family,” she wrote. “And it’s time that his statues come down. It’s time to move on.”
Two men who describe themselves as great-great-grandsons of Thomas Jonathan Jackson — better known as “Stonewall,” a nickname he picked up during the first Battle of Bull Run in 1861 — echoed the comments from Lee’s relatives.
In an open letter addressing a statue honoring Jackson in Richmond, the onetime capital of the Confederacy, the men said they were “ashamed of the monument” to their ancestor.
“As two of the closest living relatives to Stonewall, we are writing today to ask for the removal of his statue, as well as the removal of all Confederate statues from Monument Avenue,” William Jackson Christian and Warren Edmund Christian wrote in the letter published late Wednesday by Slate. “They are overt symbols of racism and white supremacy, and the time is long overdue for them to depart from public display.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney had said earlier this summer that he would not seek to remove the statues lining the city’s Monument Avenue but instead look for a way to have a commission provide more context for visitors to the totems. On Wednesday, Stoney changed course, releasing a statement saying that the commission will consider “the removal and/or relocation” of the monuments.
Jackson’s relatives said they think removing monuments honoring him and other Confederate leaders would help actively mend “the racial disparities that hundreds of years of white supremacy have wrought” in the United States.
“As cities all over the South are realizing now, we are not in need of added context,” they wrote in their open letter. “We are in need of a new context — one in which the statues have been taken down.”
A descendant of Jefferson Davis, the Confederacy’s leader, also said that if the statues are “offensive to a large majority of the public,” they should be removed from public view.
“In a public place, if it is offensive and people are taking issue with it, let’s move it,” Bertram Hayes-Davis, who is Davis’s great-great-grandson, told CNN. “Let’s put it somewhere where historically it fits with the area around it so you can have people come to see it, who want to understand that history and that individual.”
Jefferson Davis was, as my colleague Avi Selk described him this year, “the Confederacy’s first, worst and only president.” Davis’s name also adorns a stretch of Route 1 outside Washington, in Northern Virginia. The city of Alexandria is considering how to rename part of the road, and this month began soliciting suggestions for a new name.
Cities across the country are grappling with how to handle their Confederate monuments, an issue that has taken on a newfound urgency after Charlottesville. Before the bloodshed erupted in that quiet college town, the Unite the Right rally was announced as a protest of the planned removal of a statue honoring Lee.
Since then, some officials have moved quickly to have statues removed, while others have sought to head off potentially violent gatherings or flash-points. Maryland’s governor called for removing from the State House grounds a statue of Roger B. Taney, who wrote the Dred Scott decision saying that black people cannot be U.S. citizens. In Baltimore, Mayor Catherine E. Pugh (D) watched early Wednesday as workers removed four Confederate monuments.
“I said, ‘We want to do it tonight, away from fanfare,’ ” Pugh said. “We all are seeing lessons via the media of uprisings and violence, and violence is not what we need in our city.”
Mike Semel contributed to this report.