In 1969 Alisa Mellon Bruce and her brother Paul Mellon children of the famed robber baron Andrew W. Mellon consolidated their separate foundations to create the Andrew K. Mellon Foundation, New York City to “strengthen, defend, and promote the arts and humanities”. Fifty-one years later, the Mellon Foundation took a left turn and announced that it was making available 250 million for a social justice-inspired project in order to
Called the Monument Project, the foundation became active in a politically charged culture war. This new war created increased hostilities after the removal of Confederate monuments after mobs painted and toppled historical memorials throughout the Southern states. While these organized attacks on the monuments began years earlier, after the death of George Floyd in May of 2020, all of the incredible monuments on Richmond’s Monument Avenue had been defaced and removed, plus 105 others throughout the South by September of that year. The violence against the monuments was encouraged and sponsored by The Southern Poverty Law Center in Mobile Alabama, which had even created a website for this purpose.
In 2017, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu in response to a church shooting in Charleston, singlehandedly removed every Confederate monument there before anyone could react. To this day he has refused to name the private donor who paid the costly bill for removal. He was one of the first to praise Mellon’s new project. In Richmond and cities and counties all across the South, taxpayers footed the bill for the sudden removal of their history. So, when the current president of the Mellon Foundation announced a project that would
Those who had fought to defend our Southern heritage and stop the madness, took notice.
Elizabeth Alexander a black poet with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Pennsylvania, Mellon’s new president, was radically altering the use of millions of dollars to change our nation’s history and change it 360 degrees from the politics of Mellon’s founders and their father. Alexander became prominent when she read her poem at the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. She went on to be appointed director of creativity and free expression at the Ford Foundation, where she co-designed the Art for Justice Fund, a $100 million initiative to address the inequities of the criminal justice system through art and advocacy. The Ford Foundation was one of many philanthropic organizations shifting left during the Bush administration. Ford has come under criticism not only for its large donations to Black Lives Matter, but to organizations closely tied the Chinese Communist Party.
In 2018, Mellon’s board of directors stated that Alexander was selected to
Their concern for a more inclusive America indicated a concern for more minority voices in the arts and humanities, a noble pursuit, but a vision and concern absent from the lives and priorities of the elite founders and their grandfather Thomas Mellon and their father Andrew K. Mellon. To truly understand the disparateness between the origins of the Mellon money, the values of its makers and the present uses for social justice and equity one needs to look at their roots beginning with Thomas Mellon.
Author Matt Stoller wrote of Paul & Alisa Mellon’s grandfather Judge and Pittsburg real estate developer Thomas Mellon:
These are not the values of a man who would wish his hard-earned money go to disadvantaged individuals or groups or sanction handouts. Judge Mellon imparted this ideology to his son Andrew, and later Andrew imparted these values to his son Paul. In the Mellon household, “the air was heavy with the imperative to acquire”. As a child Andrew Mellon grew up in the family home, a gloomy mansion East End of Pittsburgh, a town so smoggy from the pollution that someone described it as “Hell with the lid off.”
Businessman Mellon not only commanded resources like oil and aluminum, He had a cadre of loyal associates to move about his various enterprises Mellon men who were tough, loyal, and competent. Most were Scotch-Irish Presbyterians (no blacks, Jews, or Catholics allowed), and would, if they met Mellon’s standards, become wealthy too. If not, they would be marginalized. In short Mellon was a bigot, intolerant and not a fan of inclusivity. This is the primary source of the money that now flows to Mellon’s Monument Project. The money then was left to Andrew K. Mellon. Andrew was born into the family in 1855, just prior to the War for Southern Independence.
Andrew takes his father’s values and invests them totally in the Republican Party. This begins in the Republican presidential campaign and victory in 1920. It was then when the political pendulum shifted radically to the right and away from the Progressives, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. As historian Matt Stoller wrote:
When the moneyed class had the mediocre Harding in the White House, the Republicans also had super-majority of 303–121 in the House, and 70–26 in the Senate. It was no secret also whose money put Harding there. Robber Baron Andrew W. Mellon had loaned 1.5 million to his campaign. That is the equivalent of Loaning a candidate 22.75 million today. Cronyism then dictated that Mellon was assured a cabinet position and uncustomarily at Harding’s inauguration, he announced that Mellon would be the new Treasury Secretary. The 1920’s indeed went roaring on.
That money begets more money, Mellon by the end of the war, Andrew Mellon was an officer or director of more than sixty companies. He was a financial force to be reckoned with. As Woodrow Wilson worked to increase taxes on America’s wealthiest, he had made an enemy of Mellon. The 1920 election was payback time.
Mellon was unsuccessful in getting the assistance of Congress, so he still used his one card, the Internal Revenue Service. As Stoller wrote in his book:
Mellon as Treasury Secretary even set up a special tax court to interpret and make tax law. So, you get the picture. And, to top things off, because Mellon was still involved with his business while serving, all of this was probably illegal. A statute from 1789 prohibits the treasury secretary from engaging in commerce or trade, an absurd expectation for a man with such industrial power. The founders had also written a law blocking the treasury secretary from holding bank stocks. Andrew had started Mellon Bank which would pass to his son Paul and daughter Alisa. Andrew Mellon went on to have the distinction of being the Secretary of the Treasury when the market crashed ushering in the Great Depression. Andrew Mellon died in 1937.
From Harding on, the Mellons had been the target of liberal Democrats for living lavishly while not paying taxes that would help the poor and minorities. In short, the Mellons were rich, fat Republicans who were exclusive, not inclusive. Nobody knew them better than Texas Democrat Congressman Wright Patman. Patman who had served twenty-four years in Congress, led the effort to impeach Andrew Mellon in 1932. He spent his twenty-four years to hammered away at how the superrich were using private foundations “as a loophole which enables them to avoid federal estate taxes and thus keep their businesses and large fortunes intact.” He believed that the wealthy were siphoning assets that otherwise would have been subject to the estate tax and pouring them into tax-exempt foundations benefiting their niche causes.
Patman throughout the 1960s, singled out a foundation created by a descendant of the Mellon family for funding esoteric research rather than causes that benefit the broader public, including the “origin and significance of the decorative types of medieval tombstones in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” But even more, Paul Mellon continued his father’s support for the Pennsylvania and national G.O.P. candidates like Richard Nixon.
Nothing contrasts the Mellon family, their money and values and those now of the Mellon Foundation more than Paul Mellon’s son Timothy. Timothy has been a major donor to right-wing organizations and PACS. Besides his funding of the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks, Tim Mellon was a major donor to help finance Trump’s border wall. In 2020, the same year the Andrew K. Mellon Foundation announced their Monuments Project, a left-wing site commondreams.org in an article entitled Meet the Real Dark Money GOP Who Funded Those Who Voted to Overturn the Government, stated that Tim Mellon
The “racist stereotypes” though first published in 2015, only went viral in 2020 in the summer after the George Floyd incident, the BLM riots and the mob violence against the Confederate monuments. The Daily Beast reported that:
Understanding Tim Mellon’s lineage, such remarks would have been said privately by both his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
I first became aware of the existence of the Mellon Foundation’s Monument Project while research and writing a history of the war against the monuments, specifically after the George Floyd incident.
The Valentine was awarded $670,000. By the Mellon Foundation’s Monument Project. This left only the Monument Avenue Preservation Society (MAPS) as the only non-profit preservation and history organization standing in support and they bent to the mob on February 26, 2021.
The old expression “rolling in his grave” comes to mind. The museum founded and endowed by Mann S. Valentine, the brother of sculptor Edward Valentine by 2020 participated in promoting a history that condemned both as racists and white supremacists.
The Valentine, Richmond’s only private history museum offered educational seminars beginning in 2017 to prevent the removal of Richmond’s monuments after the destruction and removal of all five Monument Avenue memorials applied to and received a grant from Mellon’s new project.
Initially, The Valentine museum director Bill Martin shared the economic value in bringing heritage tourism to the city. But when the riots came in the summer of 2020, the museum had already adopted a more liberal stance hiring Frank Jewell in 1895 to focus specifically on how the museum could address social issues like racism. This move by the board of directors opened up the museum to presentism posing as authentic history. It also opened up the private museum to new sources of funding.
The Valentine took the bronze statue of Jefferson Davis that stood at the front of the Monument Avenue monument in his honor since its dedication in Richmond on Davis’s birthday, June 3, 1907, the same year that Paul Mellon was born. The statue had been spray painted and toppled by a mob and that it seems was important to the Valentine and its new grantee the Mellon Foundation. According to the Monument Project website a mission is to:
Just as the Mellon’s money going to social justice causes and to minorities who had nor earned it, enough to have the Mellons rolling in their graves, the Valentine was created by the brother of the artist who sculpted the now denigrated statue of Davis on his back with outstretched arm.
Five Confederate works of art similarly denigrated and sent from five separate Southern locations are on their way to the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, where they too will be recontextualized and used to teach children about the evil South, slavery and the Lost Cause. Two years after its founding, the lion share of the 250 million dollars is still available to change the American landscape and simultaneously rewrite American history.
To show the City of Richmond that they did the right thing for removing every historic monument immediately after May of 2020, besides the $670,000. To Valentine, by December of 2022, Mellon awarded more than 15 million more in Monument Project grants so to literally change the cities historical landscape to reflect Elizabeth Alexander’s and now Mellon’s new worldview. On Monument Avenue, one of the South’s greatest urban redevelopments planned around Confederate tributes there are empty parks were once tens-of-thousands once gathered.
Regarding the Mellons possibly rolling in their graves, that is even a more contrasting part of this story. Paul Mellon divorced and he and his new wife Bunny being horse people lived a secluded life of luxury on a 4,000-acre estate in Upperville, Virginia, An area rich in Civil War history in Fauquier County, fifty miles from Washington D.C.. Like people with their kind of generational wealth, they loved horses and racing. Paul like both his father and grandfather loved horses far more than people. Rather than use his money for historic preservation, he spent it on horses. Later in life, he commissioned a bronze of a war horse to honor the 1.5 million horses and mules who lost their lives in the Civil War. In 2020 with all the protests against Richmond’s monuments, groups protested Mellon’s war horse as well.
The other half of the Mellon Foundation’s money, Andrew’s daughter Alisa Mellon Bruce lived a life of a socialite. Her interest was art. She was in contrast to her brother and father - non-political. Before her death she was referred to as the “richest woman in the U.S.”
In very sharp contrast to his grandfather, Paul was laid to rest in Virginia soil in a family plot in the Trinity Episcopal Cemetery in Upperville. He even had his father’s remains reburied there from Pennsylvania before passing. His sister, Alisa joined them there, when she passed in 1969. It was if they wanted nothing to do with rooted ancestry in Pittsburgh. They all now rest in peace in Southern soil while their money now preys on the desecrated memorials for the honored Confederates. Making a mockery of their sacrifices, changing their stories and the landscape they saw as home, unwilling leave them in peace.
Callahan, Patricia and James Bandler, Justin Elliott, Doris Burke, Jeff Ernsthausen, www.propublica.org/article/the-great- inheritors-how-three-families-shielded-their-fortunes-from-taxes-for-generations
Kock, Alex, www.commondreams.org/views/2021/01/28/meet-real-dark-money-gop-donors-who-funded-those-who-voted-overturn-election
Lazarus, Jeremy, www.richmondfreepress.com/news/2022/dec/22/city-wins-11m-grant-mellon-foundation-heritage-cen/
Lynch, James, www.theamericanconservative.com/the-ford-foundation-is-funding-ccp-propaganda/
Stoller, Matt, Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly, Power & Democracy, Ny, NY Simon& Schuster, 2020
Ted Ehmann was born in Trenton, New Jersey. He is a lecturer of the social sciences and the humanities at the PGICA.org. in Punta Gorda, Florida. He has served as president of the Charlotte Harbor Anthropological Society in Charlotte County since 2018 and was founder of the Charlotte County Florida Historical Society in 2019.