The Illegal Destruction of Moses Ezekiel's Grave Marker
Updated: Sep 26
"The New South" Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery is slated for destruction based upon the Naming Commission's decision to ignore its remit and attack any defense asset that refers to Confederate soldiers, even though they are limited to Defense Department assets that "honor the Confederate States of America." After documenting these facts, our report did not review details regarding the status of the memorials, a grave marker for Moses Ezekiel. A new lawsuit claims the proposed destruction is illegal because grave markers were excluded from the remit under section 370 of the 2021 NDAA. Is Defend Arlington correct? Absolutely!
Moses Ezekiel, the sculptor buried at the memorial's base, initially did not conceive the design of "the New South" with himself in mind. However, upon his death, he left a letter with his last request, which was to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery by the memorial. Lilian de Bosis, in a letter to her sister discussing Ezekiel's final days in April of 2017, wrote, "I am confident that [Ezekiel] not having left any instructions as to religious rites, simply stating he wished to be buried in the Southern Soldiers' Monument with the Masonic rites." While it is unclear what was meant by buried "in" the monument, the Secretary of War, Newton Baker, approved to bury Ezekiel at the base of the memorial. Due to the war in Europe, Ezekiel's remains could not return to the United States until 1921. The new Republican administration did not reverse the earlier decision, maintaining the exact position of bi-partisan support relating to Ezekiel and the memorial.
On March 30, 1921, Moses Ezekiel was finally laid to rest by his greatest masterpiece, a memorial
he made to peace and reunion. His funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, with military honors, included a speech from the Secretary of War, John W. Weeks, a Republican from MA. President Harding could not attend but sent a note that was read during the service. Harding's letter provided the basis for headlines in several American newspapers. For example, a headline in the Cincinnati Enquirer on March 31, 1921, read: "Lesson of Americanism Drawn by Harding From Monument Marking Ezekiel's Grave."
President Warren G. Harding's words deserve more attention:
he turned his thoughts to his own country, and as the final and finest product of his talents gave to us the monument that from this day will mark his resting place. It is a the memorial of reunited America, the testimony to the tradition of an indisnsoluble union, the shrine to which are gathered today, and will gather through the years to come, those of who would dedicate themselves to the ideal of unselfish, enlightened, unstanding Americanism as a force for our country's maintenance and all of humanity's betterment.
The powerful words not only reinforce the fact that the memorial was not an "honor to the Confederate States of America" but also that the administration that permitted Ezekiel's burial considered the "New South" to mark his grave. Harding said, "the splendid product of his art, that here testifies to our nation's reunion, will stand from this day forth as guardian over his ashes."
Henry K. Brush-Brown, a New York sculptor best known for his work on three Union General Monuments at Gettysburg, gave a detailed eulogy at the additional Memorial Service at Scottish Rite Temple on the evening of March 30. As part of his analysis, he specifically called out that the "Southern Soldiers Monument" serves "in a measure as his tomb." How can the Naming Commission ignore such robust evidence?
The Naming Commission was given the power in Section 370 to define grave markers. They wrote on page 6, in Part III of their report. "The Commission defined grave markers as Markers located at the remains of the fallen. A marker, headstone, foot stone, niche cover, or flat marker containing inscriptions commemorating one or more decedents interred at that location. This definition aligns with the existing 38 US Code § 2306 – Headstones, markers, and burial receptacles. Any Confederate-named grave markers located on any Department of Defense installation are not in the Naming Commission's remit and are exempt." The reason why "the New South" memorial doesn't have an inscription for Ezekiel is simple: he was not buried at the base when it was first unveiled in 1914! As the facts show, Ezekiel's request to be buried in Arlington became known at his death, and the War Department granted his last wish. At his funeral, even the President of the United States, a Republican from Ohio, considered the memorial to be Ezekiel's grave marker.
Without telling the Secretary of Defense any of these facts, the Naming Commission recommended destroying the grave marker of a man buried in a national cemetery with military honors!
The recommendation to destroy the memorial is illegal, will disturb graves, and is inconsistent with section 370 of the 2021 NDAA. The Department of Defense must be stopped from implementing such a travesty.