1. THE MONUMENT: In 1865, Edward Virginius Valentine returned from Europe to his hometown of Richmond, Virginia—the former Confederate capital—and began using his training in classical sculpture to enshrine the myth of the Lost Cause. Over the next few decades, he made a career of sculpting monuments to defenders of slavery, building tributes to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. And he made the statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, unveiled on Monument Avenue in June 1907 by Davis’ last surviving child and toppled in June 2020 by people protesting against systemic racism following the death of George Floyd.
In recent months, protesters have spray-painted, damaged, torched, and toppled monuments of white supremacy around the country. Critics have decried the acts as shameful attempts to erase the country’s history. The president demanded that protesters who took down a Confederate monument in Washington, DC, be “immediately arrested.” But the ritual destruction of public art is a tradition that reaches back to ancient history. It is as old as the act of honoring false gods.
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