By Calvin E. Johnson Jr.
Do your children know who Sir Moses J. Ezekiel was?
Arlington National Cemetery is located in the shadow of the Custis-Lee Mansion (Arlington House) that was home to General Robert E. Lee and his family until 1861, and the beginning of the War Between the States. This cemetery was first used in 1864, for the burial of Union soldiers.
Tours, through this famous burial place of President Kennedy, General Wainwright and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, are conducted daily. I have been told that another part of this cemetery (section 16) may sometimes be overlooked. It is, however, an important part of our nation’s history and should be a part of your guided tour through Arlington.
On June 4, 1914, the President of the U.S., Woodrow Wilson spoke at the dedication of a new Confederate memorial at section 16. The monument, to those Confederate soldiers who were re-interred there in 1900, has been called by some people as both striking and unique. This monument was trusted into safe keeping to the U.S. War Department by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1914. It was a tradition of American presidents to place a wreathe and some even spoke there on Memorial Day. What has happened to this wonderful tradition?
Dr. Edward Smith, a Professor of History at American University, has described this monument as probably the first to honor the Black Confederate soldiers. This monument includes a depiction of a Black Confederate marching in step with the white soldiers.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy commissioned a Jewish- Confederate Veteran, Sir Moses J. Ezekiel, to do the work on this monument. Some people say that he might have been the first Jewish- American to do this type of sculpture. It is written that the UDC was pleased with his work which depicts the multi-cultural makeup of the late Confederate States of America.
Moses J. Ezekiel was born on October 28, 1844, in Richmond, Va. He was one of fourteen children born to Jacob and Catherine de Castro Ezekiel. He was born in a house on “Old Market Street” that is said to have been in the poorer side of town. His grandparents came to America from Holland in 1808, and were of Jewish-Spanish Heritage.
Ezekiel talked his parents into letting him attend Virginia Military Institute and he did enroll on September 17, 1862. Some people say, he was the first Jewish-American to enter there at this the school of General Stonewall Jackson.
After three years at VMI, Ezekiel saw military service during the War Between the States. The Cadets, of Virginia Military Institute, were called to support Confederate General John C. Breckenridge at the Battle of New Market, Virginia. Ezekiel joined his fellow cadets in the charge upon the Union lines.
Ezekiel would travel to Italy to study and work as an artist and would become known worldwide. He was honored by King Emmanuel who knighted him and gave him the distinction of “Sir Moses Jacob Ezekiel.”
It was Ezekiel’s wish to return to his native Virginia but World War I kept him for doing so. He spent his final days in Italy where he died in 1917. His remains were not brought back to the states until 1921.
Among his many great works are: “Christ Bound for the Cross”, “The Martyr”, and “David Singing his Song of Glory.”
His funeral service was held at the amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. Cadets, of the Virginia Military Institute, stood by his casket that was draped with a flag of the United States. Ezekiel was buried at the base of the Confederate monument. Also buried around the monument are 450 Confederate soldiers, wives and civilians.
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He lives in Kennesaw, Georgia, near Atlanta.