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Reactions are mixed to the removal of a Confederate monument from Arlington cemetery

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Workers at Arlington National Cemetery will finish removing a monument to Confederate soldiers from the grounds today, and that has drawn mixed reactions, as NPR's Alana Wise reports.

ALANA WISE, BYLINE: The 30-foot-tall bronze memorial has been in place since 1914, commemorating Confederate soldiers of the Civil War. The removal comes after years of debate on whether Confederate statues should be displayed in public spaces.

GRACE TOWNSEND: It is a part of history - not a good part of history - but you can't erase the past.

WISE: That was Grace Townsend (ph), an Alabama resident who was visiting the cemetery with her fiance. She said she can see both sides of the debate - keeping the monuments around to preserve history but also how some people would want to see them removed.

TOWNSEND: I don't think they should be completely destroyed. I think they should be put somewhere.

WISE: The plan to remove the memorial began in 2021, when Congress called on the Defense Department to remove commemorations of the Confederacy from its properties. The decision sparked backlash from some who argued that removing these memorials erases key parts of American history. Brad Dollar agrees with that point of view.

BRAD DOLLAR: I think it is an important part of our history. I know it's a little polarizing. There's people on both sides of the topic, but I think it's important that we remember where we were at one time and where we've come since. And so I think we're at risk of losing sight of that if we remove some of those things.

WISE: Dollar is a retired Marine. He says that the cemetery as a whole, including any dedications to Confederate soldiers, should be a sobering reminder to the visitors about lives lost to war.

DOLLAR: It's that whole cliche of history's, you know, doomed to repeat itself if we don't remember the past.

WISE: The statue was designed by Moses Ezekiel, who was himself a soldier of the Confederacy. It depicts 32 life-sized figures, including a man following his enslaver into battle. Steven Pressman is working on a documentary about the man who designed the memorial.

STEVEN PRESSMAN: To quote somebody in my film, Ezekiel is somebody whose time has passed, and I would say that accurately describes the sculpture here at Arlington.

WISE: Pressman says that the sculpture is ultimately a misrepresentation of slavery and the Civil War. And for that reason, he supports its removal. After its removal from cemetery grounds, the monument will be restationed at the New Market Battlefield State Historical Park in Virginia.

Alana Wise, NPR News, Arlington, Va.

(SOUNDBITE OF CFCF'S "RAINING PATTERNS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.