I had never thought about this, even though growing up in VA and being a Civil War buff, visiting the battlefields and museums.
The Confederate statues of Richmond’s Monument Avenue weren’t erected to honor the service of brave warriors. Those soldiers had been dead for decades before the statues went up. No, the statues were put up by white people, beginning in the 1890s, to remind black people that, despite all that nonsense of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, as well as the so-called Reconstruction, we are back, and you are back down. The towering likenesses of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson weren’t put up to celebrate history or heritage; they were put up as a message: The 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution aren’t going to help you black folks because the South has risen from that humiliation. Jim Crow — a name rooted in blackface mockery — is king.
If you doubt that well-documented history — if you are tempted to buy the “heritage, not hate” rhetoric — ask yourself this question: “Where are the statues of James Longstreet?” Remember: Longstreet was Lee’s most trusted general, his second-in-command, his “Old War Horse.” Longstreet was a brave and talented warrior for the Confederacy from beginning to end. But there aren’t any Longstreet statues in Richmond — and there weren’t any at all until 1998, at Gettysburg. That’s because his service to the United States continued after the Civil War, and he did something inconsistent with the purpose of the statues, and of blackface: He treated African Americans as citizens of the United States. Longstreet agreed to serve his reunified country, joined Lincoln’s Republican Party and helped Grant protect the rights of newly freed black Americans.
Longstreet committed two unforgivable sins in the eyes of white supremacists: He criticized Lee’s war leadership, and he led an African American militia to put down an 1874 white rebellion in Louisiana. That’s why this central figure in Civil War history is not depicted among the other Confederate statues in Richmond. The statues were about only a certain kind of heritage, just as blackface was about a certain kind of storytelling. It was about hate, not history or art.
I don’t claim to understand the affinity for the confederacy among southerners, but if that were true wouldn’t there be more statues of Forrest then?