Washington and Lee Cancels Lee’s Horse—But Not Lee
A case in misplaced priorities.
The Daily Beast has a rather juvenile report titled “Conservatives Are Mad That Robert E. Lee’s Dead Horse Has Been Canceled.” It starts straightforwardly enough:
Far-right critics have railed against Washington and Lee University for submitting to “cancel culture” after the school removed plaques commemorating a Confederate-era horse that’s been dead and long-forgotten for over 150 years.
The horse’s legacy had been so insignificant that even conservatives admitted it wasn’t a “major” historical figure.
University officials removed two markers dedicated to the memory of Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveller, in July, The College Fix reported. Lee was Traveller’s saddled companion during and after the Civil War, and the horse died a few months after Lee’s death in 1871.
According to a July press release from Washington and Lee, the first plaque was on a stable, which was said to be Traveller’s last home. The other marker was a gravestone for the horse which was buried near the University Chapel, also the burial site for Lee and a national landmark. (Both markers dedicated to Traveller were donated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.) Two other plaques that commemorated where Lee took the university’s presidential oath of office and where his office was located were also removed.
“Over the past several years, Washington and Lee’s Board of Trustees has engaged in a careful review of the University’s symbols, names, and practices with the understanding that these communicate the University’s values and are an important component of its reputation,” the school said in a statement, iterating its rejection of Confederacy ideology. “Washington and Lee University is an educational institution. Its campus is neither a museum nor an appropriate repository for Confederate artifacts, and as such, the Board determined that a number of plaques on campus should be relocated to a museum to be appropriately interpreted.”
This is followed, alas, by a lot of silly back-and-forths captured from Twitter, mostly from non-entitities.
I can preach it either way but lean in this case toward keeping the plaques in that Traveller was, 1) contrary to the claim in the story’s lede, a significant historical footnote that has certainly not been forgotten (as with so much in the land of cotton); 2) a horse, and therefore neither racist nor a traitor to the United States. The plaques themself were quite innocuous, other than the notation that they were donated by the United Daughters of Confederacy.
But, as the post headline suggests, it’s rather bizarre that “Washington and Lee’s Board of Trustees has engaged in a careful review of the University’s symbols, names, and practices with the understanding that these communicate the University’s values and are an important component of its reputation” over a period of “several years” and come away with the conclusion that 1) it should stop honoring a dead horse with obscure plaques that most people will never see but 2) it should continue to honor the most prominent leader of the Confederacy right in the goddamn name of the institution.