In 2020, under pressure from the Black Lives Matter movement, statues of General Robert Lee were removed from the United States, on a hill toward Washington, the former domain of the Confederate Army Commander, but benefited by healing young people.
During the Civil War from 1861 to 1865, Robert Lee, the main military leader of the separatists, fought against the North, especially the southern states to protect slavery. Before the conflict erupted, he managed the garden where more than a hundred slaves lived.
In the summer heat of the US capital, “Arlington House, Robert Lee Memorial”, its official name, began to welcome visitors back this year after three years and more than $ 12 million in renovations.
However, the repairs did not just concern the walls: the monument was reopened with the intention of bringing an unforgettable light to the darker sides of this moment in American history, according to its observers.
As he browses the grounds of Arlington House in late August, National Park Ranger Aaron Laroka emphasizes the importance of giving a voice to the dozens of oppressed slaves in the area.
In order to revisit the stories of their lives, the curators must not only visualize their story better at Arlington House, but also create a series of new scenes visualized in the former slave apartment.
– Brilliant point –
To understand Arlington House, you have to go beyond the complex history of Robert Lee to explore the history of America.
Around the estate are the burial places of former President John F. Kennedy and the Arlington Military Cemetery, home to thousands of soldiers and veterans.
The house, built in the style of the “Greek Renaissance” in the neoclassical dynasty, was built by the hero of the Revolutionary War and the adopted grandson of the first American president, George Washington.
This grandson, George Washington Park Custes, especially Mary Anna Custis – who later married General Lee – and Maria Carter, whose mother was a slave.
Today, slave families and descendants of the Lee family are often joined and met by this common ancestor.
For many who have given too much space to the voice of slaves in the historical stories presented at Arlington House, the reference to it as the “Robert Lee Memorial” remains an issue.
“The way we identify it as a monument to Robert Lee seems really outdated, especially where we are a nation today,” says Hammond.
The 65-year-old, a heir to the estate’s slave families associated with Maria Carter, has volunteered at Arlington House for nearly eight years. It helps to tell the “few know” story of enslaved residents.
Congressman-elect Democrat Dan Bayer said his constituency would cover the area and would like to reintroduce the bill to remove the memorial after the first failed attempt.
– Diversity of voices –
In 1955, Congress officially recognized Robert Lee as a memorial, citing his efforts to reunite the country after the war.
Denise Meringolo, a professor of history at the University of Maryland, says, “Monuments are complex because they are about memory, not history.”
However, Arlington House is a monument and an educational museum, a combination of genres.
Historically, “white and middle-class people who visited historic gardens and museums got a story like theirs, in quotes,” says Denise Meringolo.
According to Aaron Laroka, historical sites must have a diversity of voices from the past to attract a different audience from the past.
The Arlington Military Cemetery welcomes nearly three million visitors each year, to approximately 600,000 Arlington Palace.
According to Steve Hammond, visitors once said, “It’s hard to be interested in seeing Kennedy’s grave, looking at the mountains, looking at the estate.”
It provides an opportunity to “exchange some of the difficult perspectives that people have and change the course of our country.”