The hidden costs of relocating Confederate statues

Montgomery County’s Confederate statue, July 2015.

Earlier this year The Washington Post published my op-ed on Montgomery County’s decision to transfer a Confederate statue that had stood in Rockville since 1913 to a new owner in the private sector. The day after the Post article ran I began writing the follow-up article on the missed opportunities in that decision and the questionable logic of giving an artifact with strong neo-Confederate symbolism to an organization that celebrates the Confederacy.

I did additional background research on the statue and on the politics and semiotics of artifacts that celebrate white supremacy. For the follow-up article I interviewed Montgomery County Councilmember Tom Hucker and County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett in anticipation of the statue’s eventual move, which occurred July 22, 2017).

And then Charlottesville happened August 11-12, 2017. All of a sudden the entire nation was awash in analytical and opinion articles about Confederate iconography, race, erasure, and the production of history.

By last weekend I had revised most of my initial ideas for how that follow-up article would look and I made the trip out to the Montgomery County statue’s new home at White’s Ferry on the Potomac River. I crossed the river to Virginia and took in the statue’s new setting and I took more than 100 photos.

From the moment I first conceived of the follow-up article I knew that it would focus on two things: the tensions inherent in deciding how to deal with neo-Confederate artifacts that Montgomery County leaders and their counterparts around the nation grapple with and the consequences of re-contextualizing the statue in a space that celebrates the Confederacy.

Relocated Confederate statue in its new home at White’s Ferry, August 2017.

By giving the statue to White’s Ferry, Montgomery County officials relinquished control over the artifact and any messages it conveys. The statue now occupies a prominent position overlooking the ferry ramp and it is one of the first things passengers see as they leave the ferry and enter Maryland from Virginia.

View from the Gen. Jubal A. Early at the ramp to White’s Ferry, August 2017.

It’s private property yet public space. And, instead of being hidden among trees next to the county’s old courthouse, the statue now occupies a more visible space at a historic Montgomery County gateway.

The Activist History Review has published my analysis of the statue’s move and its implications in the wake of Charleston 2015 and Charlottesville 2017: No Country for Johnny Reb or Bobby Lee.

Welcome to Montgomery County, Maryland. River Road and White’s Ferry Road near the entrance to White’s Ferry, August 2017.

© 2017 D.S. Rotenstein

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