Drawing in a Time of Fear & LiesWeekend

The Skeletons in History’s Closet

When do we stop believing that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man?

Andrew Ellis Johnson, “ONE TIKI, TWO TIKI” (2017), ink and charcoal, 75 x 42 inches

One Halloween in grade school, I learned how to sew so that I could make a detailed Robert E. Lee uniform. While General Lee is a complicated figure who initially argued against secession, I now understand that his canonization is the rhetoric of the Lost Cause — hook, line and sinker. And the pit of regret weighs in my stomach.

The Lost Cause was manufactured to deny that slavery was the reason for the war. It was a Neo-Confederate, revisionist, white supremacist history created to suppress Black Americans and impose Jim Crow laws. As a nine-year-old, I was unaware of Lee’s history of violently beating his enslaved workers, committing war crimes against Black Union soldiers, and capturing free men for chattel. He was one of the most responsible for the killing of 750,000 Americans.

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly is aware that the continued portrayal of Lee as an “honorable man” serves as a dog-whistle to embolden the alt-right. His assertion that “compromise” could have stopped the Civil War is historically indefensible and in lockstep with Trump’s inflammatory post-Charlottesville comments. How can there be compromise on whether someone would be enslaved or not?

These statements are meant to mislead and distract.  They are not benign feints. They are dangerous and deadly.  They are skeletons in our collective closet. And they are not just trotted out for Halloween. They were never put away. Now they are ever more proudly and publicly paraded each day.

Tiki torches aren’t for the summer porch anymore.

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