Confederate monuments, real heroes and Fathers Day.

My Dad’s house on Howard Avenue in Brooklyn with Lucy.

Fathers Day was a day with our kids, grandkids and friends at Belmont Race Track in New York. I was sure that Cosi Bella was the horse to put my hopes on in the 7th.

My hopes were dashed. Cosi Bella finished out of the money. It was not the only bad pick yesterday.

We ended the day at Belmont after the 8th race.

My horse in the 8th may yet spin out of the final turn. We didn’t wait to see.

Driving back, my kids had a surprise for me.

At the spot on Eastern Parkway where Brownsville meets East New York we turned on to Howard Avenue and pulled up in front of a brick house with a wrought iron gate painted white and a car parked in the front yard. The facade looked like it had seen several remodeling jobs over the past hundred years, most recently with faux stone over the original red brick and a tin awning over a second floor porch.

This was probably the house to which my Dad arrived from the hospital when he was born in 1918 and the house he left to go fight in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. Hundreds of women and men from Brooklyn did the same thing. In 1937 it was mainly a neighborhood of working class Jews who recognized the Civil War in Spain as the first battle in a world-wide fight against fascism and were eager to get into it. Three thousand American would go to Spain. A little less than half would come home alive.

They were genuine heroes.

There is no historic marker on the house on Howard Avenue. There are no monuments to the veterans of the Spanish Civil War in Brooklyn that I know of.

All the American veterans of the Spanish Civil War are now dead.

Oddly, there is a memorial in Brooklyn to the Confederate General, Robert E. Lee.

When the city of New Orleans took down its last Confederate statue, of General Robert E. Lee, Representative Yvette Clarke, of New York’s Ninth Congressional District, had a local take. She tweeted, “We should do likewise with General Lee Avenue in Brooklyn.”

Clarke was referring to a street in Bay Ridge that is also named for the Confederate Army leader. Half a mile long, and two lanes wide, it is the main thoroughfare inside the U.S. Army garrison at Fort Hamilton, the city’s only active military base, which is fenced off from the surrounding neighborhood. All of the base’s streets are named for generals: Pershing Loop, for John Pershing; Marshall Drive, for George Marshall; Washington Drive, for George Washington. Lee served at Fort Hamilton in the Army Corps of Engineers from 1841 to 1846. This fact is memorialized on a boulder at the base’s entrance, which, an inscription notes, was installed by the New York chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Actually, there are two Confederate memorials to General Lee in Brooklyn.

General Lee Avenue is not the only Confederate memorial in Bay Ridge. Another can be found just a few blocks away, at St. John’s Episcopal Church, on Fort Hamilton Parkway. In the church’s front yard, there is a maple tree marked with an iron sign that reads, “This tree was planted by General Robert Edward Lee, while stationed at Fort Hamilton.” The sign was installed in 1912, also by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.

And then recently I learned that making Confederate memorials was a profit center for Northern businessmen, including more than a few in my home town of Chicago.

Traditional bronze foundries were predominantly located in the North, and likewise produced figures of Confederate soldiers. The Hall County Confederate Monument, located in Gainesville, GA and produced by the Chicago-based American Bronze Company in 1909, bears a biblical inscription that reveals the impact on the local community intended by erecting these monuments: “Tell ye your children of it, and / let your children tell their children / and their children another generation.” This epigraph indicates the desire for a very specific telling of history, resisting the truth that both memory and our reading of history shifts over time.

Some readers may know that I have this thing about memorials.

A couple of years ago, at a National Education Association Representative Assembly I introduced a New Business Item that called upon the NEA to support the removal of Confederate memorials from all schools and public spaces.  I did it in response to the killings of nine parishioners at the African American church in Charleston, South Carolina.

The New Business Item was watered down and eventually adopted. Nothing was ever done in implement it

Winston Churchill is known to have said, “History is written by the victors.”

Not always.

2 Replies to “Confederate monuments, real heroes and Fathers Day.”

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