By Brad Brooks and Steve Gorman
(Reuters) -A federal judge in Virginia on Tuesday ruled that Army crews can continue removing a confederate monument at Arlington National Cemetery, as Congress has mandated must be done by Jan. 1.
U.S. District Judge Rossie Alston on Monday had ordered a halt to the removal as he considered a lawsuit against the work.
In his Tuesday ruling, he rejected the arguments from the group Defend Arlington, who claimed in their suit that the Pentagon had skirted federal environmental law in its rush to take down the monument, and that the work would disturb nearby graves.
Alston wrote that “this case essentially attempts to place this Court at the center of a great debate” between those who extol “the virtues, romanticism and history of the Old South” and people who say the monuments glorify the slave-owning culture of the Confederacy.
Erected in 1914, the Confederate Memorial is the latest of scores of statues seen by many as monuments to racism. They have been singled out for demolition by state and local leaders around the U.S. since a nationwide public uproar stirred in 2020 by the killing of George Floyd.
Congress formally mandated elimination of all names, symbols and statues commemorating the Confederacy throughout the U.S. military in 2021, creating a commission to oversee the endeavor.
Kerry Meeker, head of public affairs for Arlington Cemetery, said in a written statement that the Army would resume removal of the monument “immediately” and that great care would be taken to preserve “the sanctity of all those laid to rest” nearby.
The cemetery’s own online critique describes the monument’s imagery and inscriptions as sanitizing pre-Civil War slavery, romanticizing secession of the Southern pro-slave states, and perpetuating the noble “Lost Cause” myth of the Confederacy.
The monument features a classically robed woman cast in bronze representing the American South standing atop a three-story pedestal adorned with life-sized figures of deities, Confederate soldiers and civilians.
Among those figures are an enslaved African-American “mammy” character holding the infant child of a white Confederate officer, and an enslaved African-American man following his owner off to war, according to the cemetery’s description.
The monument overlooks Confederate graves in a special corner of the sprawling cemetery, which stands in Arlington, Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., on the grounds of a former plantation seized from Civil War General Robert E. Lee, commander of Confederate forces.
(Reporting by Brad Brooks in Longmont, Colorado, and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Michael Perry)