This year, a distinct artwork bedeviled the absorption of the absolute city: the bronze of Robert E. Lee in Oak Lawn Park. Crowds and account crews and drones watched its abatement in September, and the ambassador set up a appropriate assignment force to accede its fate, as able-bodied as that of a Confederate war cairn adjoining to the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, streets alleged afterwards Confederate veterans, and depictions of Confederate history in Fair Park. The mayor’s abrupt action, he said, was to abstain a echo of protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, which concluded in abhorrence back a white nationalist rammed his car into a army of marchers, killing a adolescent woman and abasing dozens.
If the mayor’s absorbed was to abstain violence, again it was a success. But the statue’s abrupt abandonment larboard added than an abandoned pedestal—it engendered a assertive bulk of confusion. The assignment force ultimately absitively that the statues charge go, but that didn’t stop the vitriolic, derogatory, and racist voicemails larboard for some burghal board members, nor did it anticipate the array of annoyed speakers at accessible affairs who decried attacks on their heritage, again lies about the causes of old wars, and stomped their anxiety over perceived actual revisionism.
The abashing didn’t stop there. In the pages of the Dallas Morning News, the city’s capital art critic, Rick Brettell, UTD assistant and above administrator of the Dallas Museum of Art, appeared abashed by the hubbub. At first, Brettell—who abutting with a accumulation alleged the Dallas Citizens for Unity and Reconciliation to argue the abatement of the statue—argued that the artful and art actual arete of the assignment by acclaimed equestrian sculptor Alexander Phimister Proctor acceptable preservation. Again he appropriate that if the Lee cairn couldn’t break in Oak Lawn, it should be placed in Fair Park.
All of this appropriate that, alike afterwards the bronze was gone, the burghal had bootless to butt its absolute acceptation for Dallas—both as a actual antiquity and a assignment of art.
To accept what the Lee bronze means, you charge to accept its origins. As Brettell acicular out, Proctor was a admired sculptor in his day, Canadian-born and by no agency a Southern zealot. Not alone did he accomplish a horse for Lee, he fabricated one for Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman in New York’s Central Park. By all accounts, he was added forward-thinking about ancestral relations than best men of his day.
But accessible sculpture—and monuments in particular—is never the artefact of a atypical artful mind, and Proctor’s assignment cannot be accepted after or untangled from the motivations that led to its commissioning. They were all on display, admitting in somewhat coded fashion, during the statue’s adherence on June 12, 1936.
The accident was loaded with dignitaries. Not alone was President Franklin D. Roosevelt in attendance, but additionally added arresting politicians, pastors, patrons, and alike the great-grandson of Robert E. Lee. One apparent attendee was acclaimed filmmaker D.W. Griffith, whose adulterated assuming of the Civil War and Reconstruction in 1915’s The Birth of a Nation managed to both ad-lib new accurate accent and affect a improvement of the Ku Klux Klan. The American, Confederate, and Lone Star flags flew as speakers accepted Lee broadly and with affection.
Through a assertive set of eyes, this may assume benign. But in its complete praise, the accident exemplified the “Cult of Lee.” During the 66 years amid the general’s afterlife and the statue’s erection, Lee had become in the minds of abounding a hero out of a aerial tale. And like a aerial character, all of his contradictions, misconceptions, and complications were sanded bottomward to leave the aerial amount of amplitude and courage in its place.
By best actual accounts, Lee was an able agent and a adherent Christian. For the account of the apology of the Union, he didn’t appetite statues erected to Confederate heroes. But Lee was additionally a bondservant buyer and a barbarous administrator who advisedly bankrupt up his slaves’ families. He justified his acrid administration of his disciplinarian as all-important “for their apprenticeship as a race.” He didn’t chargeless his disciplinarian until a Virginia cloister affected his hand, and he angry a dark eye back his soldiers—and after his acceptance at Washington and Lee University—massacred or exhausted or raped or abducted atramentous soldiers or students.
In his writings, Lee bidding action to the abstraction of slavery, but not for the slaves’ sake. Rather, he argued, it was out of Christian alms that white men captivated slaves, befitting them in chains to assure them from the race’s perceived affection against insubordination, ignorance, and incompetence. What he didn’t like was how bullwork threatened the chastity of white men, and back he batten abundantly of blacks, he added the admonition that nonetheless “our material, societal, and political interests are artlessly with the whites.” In short, it was a worldview that accepted white men as artlessly above to bodies of color, the eyes of a true, pure, Christian aisle of American history. None of this fabricated Lee extraordinary. In fact, they were characteristics that able him as a Southern gentleman.
Whether Robert E. Lee is the affectionate of actual amount Dallas wants to account in 2017, however, isn’t absolutely the point. The bronze in the above Lee Park, and hundreds like it, charge be accepted in the ambience of the Lost Account movement, which approved to abolish bullwork as a account of the Civil War and reframe Southern alienation as a blue-blooded accomplishment to bottle the South’s cultural heritage. The Dallas Southern Memorial Association erected the bronze to acknowledge the ethics Lee represented to the Lost Cause: white Southern pride, honor, gentlemanliness, strength, and supremacy. Standing below the bronze during the hours afore its removal, activity the artwork’s weight, presence, and grandeur, it was absurd to disagree with the affirmation that Proctor masterfully captured these qualities in his sculpture. That he did such a acceptable job, however, makes the Lee bronze all the added almighty and horrifying. Its affection is a attestation to the ability of art as able-bodied as art’s susceptibility to be co-opted into the account of propaganda.
Those who argued that the abatement represented actual agnosticism bootless to see the statue’s adroit advance on history. Those who argued that its attendance was benign, or that its artful arete trumps any adverse associations, absolved the ability of art. The bronze enshrines and perpetuates an affirmation of a apocryphal actual ideal, one that invalidates the altruism of African-Americans and erases their acquaintance from history. That abandoning is at the actual affection of what racism is. The alone way to actual the actual almanac was to accompany the old accepted down.
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