Mark Herring’s Court Brief Reminds Us of Some Useful History About Richmond’s Lee Statue

It’s been another good week for “telling the damn truth” about Virginia history. And it came from an unexpected source: Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s legal brief arguing against an effort to block the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue from Richmond’s Monument Ave.

Legal briefs contesting motions don’t usually rise to the level of valuable historical tools.

But in the course pushing back against plaintiff William C. Gregory’s request for a permanent injunction barring the Lee statue’s removal, Herring and his legal team remind everyone of how the Lee statue came to be and why it is situated where it is.

Let’s take the location question first, as a second lawsuit seeking to halt removal of the Confederate monuments would result in “the loss of favorable tax treatment and reduction in property values.”

Setting aside the utter lack of self-awareness required to make such an argument, the Herring brief says the reason the Lee statue was placed on Monument Avenue — aside from being on higher ground, making it taller than the George Washington statue in Capitol Square — came down to money:

“The heirs (of original property owner William Allen) agreed to donate land for the Monument to the (Lee Monument Association) — so long as they could develop and market the surrounding land for upscale suburban residences.”

And upscale homes are exactly what they got — with the statues serving to lure the moneyed, and the unreconstructed, out of the city and into the suburbs.

And if those worried that removing monuments to the Lost Cause would hurt home prices or, more laughably, result in the “degradation of the internationally recognized avenue on which they reside,” then fine. Let’s put up new statues.

In place of the now-deposed Jefferson Davis statue, let’s put up a statue of Frederick Douglass, one of the most forceful advocates for liberty the nation has ever seen.

Might that upset some residents along the “internationally recognized avenue?”

Quite possibly. But if we accept the blinkered notion that cold metal likenesses are absolutely essential to understanding and preserving history, then let’s preserve a history that tells the hard truths rather than one that perpetuates hideous myths.

Property values might even rise because of it.

But back to the other facts raised in Herring’s brief — namely, the reason the Lee statue was commissioned anyway, despite Lee’s personal objections to monuments of any kind recalling the Civil War.

In an 1869 letter responding to an invitation to attend memorial dedications at the Gettysburg battlefield, Lee said he would have nothing to add to the proceedings.

He also said it would be “wiser” for all concerned “not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.”

One of Lee’s lieutenants, fellow Virginian Jubal Early, refused to follow those orders.

Continue reading here.

Cover photo by Martin Falbisoner

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