Spirit of VMI PAC, Lexington, Virginia, 16 December 2023
Editors’ Notes: The removal has begun as shown. It is scheduled to be complete by December 22nd. Make your voice heard by contacting your congressman or the Virginia State Historic Preservation Officer Julie Langan at 804-482-6087 (work) or [email protected].
On Dec. 11, 44 GOP members of the House of Representatives signed this letter urging Defense Department Secretary Lloyd Austin to suspend the removal of the National Reconciliation Memorial until Congress completes the Fiscal Year 2024 process. Although most of the signatories represent Southern states, some Congress members who signed it represent Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, Missouri, California, Wisconsin, Maryland, Michigan, and West Virginia. In our region, Reps. Ben Cline (VA-6) and Bob Good (VA-5) did sign but Rep. Morgan Griffith (VA-9) did not.
On Monday, Dec. 18, a federal judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order to halt removal of the monument, on the same day that the dismantling began.
There is an ill-advised and misguided crusade to remove the Moses Ezekiel sculpture “New South” from Arlington National Cemetery. Ezekiel crafted the monument as part of a national reconciliation effort to foster unity as the veterans of the American Civil War entered their twilight years.
This removal crusade demonstrates a fundamental ignorance of history and a lack of appreciation for authentic American historical art in context. It is nothing more than an exercise by the leftist thought police that smacks of intolerance, racism, and antisemitism.
A contextual understanding of Moses J. Ezekiel may be helpful to fair-minded and thoughtful people.
If the current flavor of the day is viewing 19th Century people and events through a 21st Century lens, the social justice warriors presently seeking to pillory the works and life of Moses Ezekiel need to visit an eye doctor. Those who would castigate Ezekiel are both myopic and hyperopic. Their ignorance and misguided passion prevent them from seeing Ezekiel for who he actually was as a human being.
Let me demonstrate the hypocrisy of their feigned outrage and offer a clear picture of who was Moses Ezekiel. Ezekiel was born in 1845 to Jewish working-class parents in Richmond, Virginia. He was the seventh of twelve children and was largely raised by his grandparents due to the financial struggles of his parents.
Young Ezekiel sired an illegitimate bi-racial daughter with one of his father’s housemaids when he was about 15 years old. After Fort Sumter was fired upon and the American Civil War commenced in earnest, Ezekiel entered the Virginia Military Institute as a cadet; probably in part with the thought it would keep him safe from the war and probably also in part because of his failed conformity to the expectations of proper comportment (an out-of-wedlock child) for his times. As the first Jewish cadet at VMI, Ezekiel had to request special permission for a furlough in order to celebrate Passover.
In 1864, the VMI Corps of Cadets was mustered to New Market, Virginia to be held in reserve for the ensuing Battle of New Market. The cadets were to be called into action only if things went badly. At about 2 PM on the afternoon of May 15, 1864, things went badly and the VMI Cadets were called forward to the front lines. General John C. Breckinridge’s heartfelt words were, “Put the boys in, and may God forgive me for the order.” The high-water mark for the VMI cadets was their valiant charge under direct fire across the Bushong Farm in a field so muddy that it pulled the shoes off their feet as they ran and became immortalized as the “Field of Lost Shoes”. Ten cadets were killed in action and 47 more were wounded – Ezekiel being one of the wounded. He was 19 years old at the time.
One of the ten cadets who died was Ezekiel’s roommate, Thomas Garland Jefferson, a distant relative of the third President of the United States. Cadet Jefferson was ultimately found by Ezekiel after the battle. Moses Ezekiel nursed his mortally wounded roommate and friend until Jefferson succumbed from his wounds three days after the battle. In an act of ultimate brotherly love, at Jefferson’s request, the Jewish Ezekiel read to Jefferson from the New Testament (the 14th Chapter of John).
It is understandable that a series of such traumatic events would make an indelible impression on a nineteen-year-old.
After the war, Moses Ezekiel finished his studies at VMI graduating in 10th in his class of ten cadets in 1866. Lexington being a small town, he somehow managed the counsel of the President of neighboring Washington College (now Washington & Lee), Robert E. Lee. Upon hearing Ezekiel’s desire to be an artist, Lee encouraged the young man to fulfill his dreams.
Over the next 50 years, Moses Ezekiel became an artist of world renown and won international acclaim and awards. Ezekiel never married and though it was never confirmed, it was widely speculated and accepted that he shared a homosexual relationship with his companion, Fedor Encke, for nearly 40 years.
After a life fully lived, Moses Ezekiel died in his Rome studio in 1917. He was initially interred in Rome but his remains were brought back to his beloved Virginia in 1921 and buried with honors at Arlington National Cemetery. For all of his worldly accomplishments and accolades, he chose his epitaph to read:
“Moses J. Ezekiel – Sergeant of Company C – Battalion of Cadets of the Virginia Military Institute”.
A man’s epitaph demonstrates unequivocally what was important to him.
In summary, Moses Ezekiel defies strict definition. He is a living embodiment of E pluribus unum and is a metaphorical statue of liberty for all Americans. If we truly and earnestly seek to value all humans, celebrate diversity, and practice inclusion, Moses J. Ezekiel of the Virginia Military Institute has earned his place as the figurehead of that program.
The following is an email (…) that tells you how to get involved and try to stop this travesty:
“Moses Ezekiel’s grave marker monument is scheduled to be removed Monday, Dec. 18th unless stopped.
“Our own Virginia State Historic Preservation officer (SHPO) has the ability to delay and this beautiful, important memorial to peace and reconciliation located inside Arlington National Cemetery, or foremost cemetery.
“Could I trouble you to send a VERY NICE email requesting that she delay action on moving this?
“Christmas is a terrible time for this memorial with Scripture on it to come down, not to mention the context of the antisemitism raging on college campuses. Moving it destroys it; she could stop it.
“Congress sent a letter signed by 44 House members to protect it — you could attach the letter, here.
“We should not be hasty with a grave marker. Julie could be a hero and worthy or the name ‘preservationist’ if she could simply wait.
“Please call her at 804-482-6087 (work) or email her at [email protected]
“Be very respectful and polite. Urge her to delay.
“And send this virally….we need to inundate her with polite requests to wait. The more the merrier.”
–Spirit of VMI PAC, Lexington, VA
Founded in 2021, the Spirit of VMI PAC (SOVP is a registered Virginia Political Action Committee whose purpose is to help restore VMI’s reputation as an elite leadership institution. You can visit their website here.
DefendArlington.org has more information about the National Reconciliation Memorial and a time line of the competing moves to destroy or preserve it. They encourage readers to call Gov. Youngkin (804-786-2211), Secretary of Natural Resources Travis Boyle (804-786-0044), and Attorney General Miyares (804-786-2071) and ask what the state Historic Preservation Office and the State of Virginia are doing to prevent the irreparable harm to American and Virginia History at Arlington National Cemetery.