The United States Military Academy at West Point will start removing Confederate symbols from its campus, including taking down a portrait of Gen. Robert E. Lee dressed in his Confederate uniform from the academy’s library, officials said.
Over the next year, West Point will also remove, relocate, modify or rename busts, memorials, streets and buildings named after Confederate figures as part of a directive from the Department of Defense.
Lt. Gen. Steven W. Gilland, the academy’s superintendent, said in a message on the academy’s website that the first stage of the removal process would begin during the holiday break, which started on Sunday, Dec. 18.
During the break, the academy plans to remove the portrait of Lee, as well as a stone bust of Lee, who was superintendent of West Point before he led the Confederate army, General Gilland said.
The academy will also remove a triptych of bronze plaques that include Lee and other Confederate figures and an image of a hooded figure with the words “Ku Klux Klan” written below. These items would be placed in storage, the general said.
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The moves come after a Defense Department directive in October that ordered West Point to remove or replace items “that commemorate or memorialize the Confederacy or those who voluntarily served with the Confederacy.”
The directive was based on recommendations from the Naming Commission, which was created by Congress last year to assess Defense Department items that commemorate the Confederacy at West Point and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
In August, the commission released a report that identified 13 Confederate “assets and memorabilia” at West Point to be removed, renamed or stored by December 2023. The report said the recommendations were not made with the intention of “erasing history,” but rather to continue teaching “future generations of America’s military leaders to represent the best of our national ideals.” The commission noted that cadets at the academy would continue to learn about the Civil War and its complexities.
Protests after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 created greater urgency around efforts to remove monuments and memorials in the United States that honor those who fought to preserve slavery and uphold white supremacy.
At least 230 symbols of the Confederacy have been removed or renamed since May 2020, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that supports the removal of the symbols. The center began tracking how many Confederate memorials exist in the country after a white supremacist who posed with the Confederate flag killed nine Black parishioners in a Charleston, S.C., church in 2015.
The Naming Commission’s report said that after the Civil War ended in 1865, no Confederate leader was invited to the academy until 1898. It was not until 1930 that West Point accepted and installed Confederate memorials, the report said.
The report noted that those memorials were installed at a time when the country was “gripped” by the “Lost Cause” ideology, which attempted to cast the Confederates in a positive light and minimized the role of slavery and horrific treatment of enslaved people. “Due to external pressures, the Army felt compelled to change its policy,” the report said.
General Gilland said that the academy also planned to replace a Lee quote in its Honor Plaza and would modify stone markers that honor the Confederacy in its Reconciliation Plaza.
West Point’s Memorialization, History, and Museum committee will also recommend names to replace streets and buildings named after Confederate figures by the end of the year, the general said, adding, “We will conduct these actions with dignity and respect.”