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October 09, 2020

Bill to remove Lee statue advances

Credit: Herald-Mail Media, Mike Lewis

The effort to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at Antietam National Battlefield has moved beyond committee review and could get a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The House Natural Resources Committee approved the measure, House Resolution 970, on Sept. 30 and sent it to the House floor. The resolution would direct the Secretary of the Interior to develop a plan to remove the statue.

“The statue of Robert E. Lee on Antietam Battlefield was commissioned with the explicit intent of honoring the Confederacy,” the bill’s sponsor, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown said in an email Friday. “Built by a private citizen in 2003, the statue now sits on public land and provides an inaccurate portrait of Robert E. Lee and the history of the Civil War.”

Brown is a Democrat who represents Maryland’s 4th Congressional District. He has previously said the statue is historically inaccurate, in part  because the monument claims Lee, who owned slaves, was “personally against secession and slavery.”

“Our national parks and public spaces should not glorify those who betrayed their country to defend the violent institution of slavery. Removing this statue will not end systemic racism in this country, but it is an important step to reckoning with our shared history and moving forward,” Brown said. “I was glad to see my bill advance out of committee, and I look forward to the full House of Representatives voting on this legislation in the weeks ahead.”

U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-6th, is a cosponsor. The 6th District includes Washington County.

In an email Friday, Trone spokeswoman Hannah Crook wrote that the congressman supports Brown’s bill “because we must make sure that statues accurately represent our history, and this one does not. Instead, he believes it should be placed in a museum to be viewed alongside the full historical context of the Civil War.”

The 24-foot likeness of the Confederate general atop a horse was erected on private land off Md. 34 in 2003. The National Park Service acquired the land two years later and incorporated it as part the battlefield.

Herald-Mail Media reported in 2003 that historians believe the statue is historically inaccurate because it was erected in a Union-held portion of the battlefield. The monument is near the Newcomer House outside Sharpsburg.

Historians further noted that Lee fell from his horse weeks before the September 1862 battle —  spraining his right wrist and breaking a bone in his left hand — and rode in an ambulance rather than on a horse when he arrived in Maryland.

This year, the statue was vandalized in June and July, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody in May.

In the most recent incident, someone scrawled graffiti on it that read “BLM” and “You lost the war,” among other things.

The bill was among 19 measures the committee approved Sept. 30. The topics ranged from extending some parks’ boundaries to protecting the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota from mining.

They included House Resolution 4135, which would remove the Albert Pike statue near Judiciary Square in the District of Columbia. The measure is sponsored by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who is the district’s nonvoting member of Congress.

Pike was an officer in the Confederate army. That monument also was damaged earlier this year in protests following Floyd’s death.