On August 11 and 12, 2017, a far-right movement called “Unite the Right” marched in protest of the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. While the angry and hateful group of “protestors” made their motivations and justifications abundantly clear, it was also clear that none of them had stopped to check what Robert E. Lee’s thoughts on Confederate monuments were. Robert E. Lee after the Civil War was a different person than the one who led the Confederates against the Union, and his opinions would probably shock some far-righters – if they weren’t certain to denounce it as “fake news” rather than listening to its message. Lee opposed erecting Civil War monuments of any kind, and he specifically denounced the raising of Confederate statues.
If the leader of the Confederacy opposed raising Confederate monuments, where does the push to build them come from? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is embedded in America’s long and troubling history of racism, particularly racism in the South. There can be little doubt that the current efforts to fight Confederate monument removal have similar roots.