Formed in 2017 by Pierre McGraw and Geary Mason, the RE Lee Monumental Association wants to find a “honorable and respectable location” for the removed Lee statue, as well as “educate and promote the historical importance of RE Lee and Lee Circle in New Orleans.” As such, the Association is a virtual church of Lee, calling him “an iconic gentleman to both revere and emulate” who lived “his beliefs and virtues in a heroic manner” that should be “respected and remembered for generations to come.” (Here’s an actual history of Lee as a saint of the Lost Cause.)
To bolster their worship, the Association relies on the ‘research’ of the Abbeville Institute, a journal whose mission statement includes, “Rarely these days…is it possible to acknowledge the achievements of white people” and which was co-founded by a member of the white nationalist League of the South. An endless rehash of Lost Cause and pro-Confederate thought, the Abbeville Institute believes to be Southern is to be white; that any other history is “an increasingly successful campaign by the media and an academic elite to strip young white southerners…of their heritage, and, therefore, their identity.”
Note the rhyming: in 1884, the Daily Picayune declared that with the Lee statue “we must show to all coming ages that with us, at least, there dwells no sense of guilt.” In 2018, the Abbeville Institute says white Southerners “are being taught to forget their forbearers or to remember them with shame.”
The name of the RE Lee Monumental Association itself – which it borrows from the 1870s group that put the statue up – shows their lack of historical awareness. The head of the 1800s association, Judge Charles Fenner, was a member of the Crescent City White League who later ruled against Homer Plessy, forging the doctrine of ‘separate but equal.’ Many other original members – including the then-mayor of New Orleans – had been both Confederate soldiers and White League rioters at the Battle of Liberty Place. This is the heritage McGraw and Mason have chosen to continue.
And yet the current Association vehemently denies any relationship between Lee and slavery or racism, claiming the comparison is “political correctness.” (For a deeper look, read this article on how Lee’s statue was a centerpiece of white New Orleans’ power after Reconstruction.)
The RE Lee Historical Association is a religious organization that views Lee as an infallible god and thus cannot engage with any kind of criticism or complexity. This is not history – this is worship.
Your free gift for joining the Abbeville Institute is a book explaining how emancipation was a tragedy.
Some highlights from what the RE Lee association thinks is great history:
“And slavery was, for various industrial, technological, economic, and other pragmatic reasons, on the way out and probably wouldn’t have survived beyond the 1880s regardless of who won the War.”
“To lessen the city’s racial divisiveness, it would be prudent to restore at least one of the four removed monuments, – preferably the Lee statue.”
“[The Union] could have done the same thing to the Confederacy — invade, free the slaves, and return home without forcibly re-absorbing the Confederacy. The reason they didn’t is clear: the war was about secession, not slavery.”
“Operations based on slavery could not compete against enterprises based on consensual, paid employees.” [Ed.: ???]
“Lincoln ended up winning and slavery was ended, which was the one good thing that came out of the war. But it’s not necessary to honor war criminals and white separatists [He’s referring to Lincoln, Sherman, and the Union here] simply because they won, especially when ending slavery wasn’t the reason they initiated the Civil War. Indeed, does winning mean that lies and hypocrisy have to be a major legacy of the Civil War?”
“[Charleston murderer] Dylann Roof is exactly what he was taught that he should be, not according to Southern history, tradition, or culture, but by public school textbooks, the mainstream media, and Hollywood propaganda.”
“Southern symbols mean to the Southerner exactly what they say that they do.”
“The public schools now teach Southern children to be ashamed of who they are and others are taught to despise them.”
“Southerners are under no obligation to participate in our own destruction, or sit quietly while the memory of our kith and kin are slandered and insulted.”
Here is the association trying to claim that Martin Luther King Jr. would support Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson because he would recognize them as honorable men. Ugh. Counterpoint: “For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation – and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.”