It would be "wiser…not to keep open the sores of war," said the former Confederate general Robert E. Lee in 1869, "but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered." Lee wrote those remarks as he rejected an invitation to enshrine Confederate memorials for fallen soldiers.
In the decades following Lee's death in 1870, many such monuments would come to be, and many would bear his likeness. But the erstwhile general may finally be getting his wish. In the wake of protests across the country, set in motion after a Minneapolis cop killed George Floyd, an unarmed black man, numerous communities have seen a reinvigorated push to remove local homages to Confederate soldiers—the likes of which amount to little more than grand participation trophies that celebrate the most racially fraught time in U.S. history.
There's a rich irony to the fact that Lee, who recognized the ill-conceived nature of the idea, would become the unwitting mascot for those who support those memorials. After all, statues of the general himself are not few and far between. They have become the quintessential lightning rod in the debate, famously drawing the attention of the white supremacists who marched on Charlottesville, Virginia, in August 2017, as they protested the removal of his statue.