Why are hundreds of Confederate statues still standing?
There are hundreds of Confederate statues left to tear down: It was good to see that New Orleans tore down their Robert E. Lee Statue. But according to the Southern Poverty Law Center there are more than 1,500 Confederate symbols on public property, including 718 statues and monuments honoring Dixie.
Some statues of Confederate heroes are coming down in the South, yet hundreds more remain. Hundreds. And yet, the Civil War ended over 150 years ago.
As we find ourselves solidly in the twenty-first century, why are we still talking about Confederate monuments? Why are they still a thing? These enduring memorials to white supremacy and the enslavement of Black people are still standing, in a nation that has not moved past America’s original sin and has refused to address the pernicious and ubiquitous nature of racism. Those who want the statues of Confederate generals, soldiers and politicians to remain say they will lynch you if you dare try to take them down.
New Orleans placed itself on the right side of history when it took down the statue of General Robert E. Lee, the last of four Confederate monuments the city dismantled.
6:03 p.m.: Lee statue finally comes off top of large column. pic.twitter.com/do5vC8W0Db
— WWL-TV (@WWLTV) May 19, 2017
Mayor Mitch Landrieu made it plain when he spoke of “a city of any nations,” “a melting pot” rooted in slavery—the largest slave market in America where hundreds of thousands of people were bought and sold.
Landrieu rejects the notion that the Confederate monuments are about history. “And it immediately begs the questions, why there are no slave ship monuments, no prominent markers on public land to remember the lynchings or the slave blocks,” he said in a speech last week. The monuments, erected years after the Civil War, were all about white supremacy and terrorism, just as the war was all about maintaining slavery and white supremacy.
“The historic record is clear, the Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard statues were not erected just to honor these men, but as part of the movement which became known as The Cult of the Lost Cause. This ‘cult’ had one goal — through monuments and through other means — to rewrite history to hide the truth, which is that the Confederacy was on the wrong side of humanity,” Landrieu said. “After the Civil War, these statues were a part of that terrorism as much as a burning cross on someone’s lawn; they were erected purposefully to send a strong message to all who walked in their shadows about who was still in charge in this city,” he added.
In Mississippi, GOP State Representative Karl Oliver responded to recent events in Louisiana by taking to Facebook and calling for the lynching of those who remove Confederate statutes. The Koch Brothers-backed politician later apologized for his comment.
According to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center last year, there are 1,503 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces, including 718 monuments and statues, of which nearly 300 are in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina. In addition, 109 public schools are named for Confederate heroes such as Lee, Jefferson Davis and others. SPLC also noted there are 10 U.S. military bases named for Confederates, 80 counties and cities, and 9 official Confederate holidays in six U.S. states. That’s a lot of love for the losing side and an unjust cause. There should be nothing but condemnation and dishonor for folks who seceded from the Union and fought for the right to keep Black people chained in their backyards.
And some of these monuments are not even in the South. While a majority are in the former Confederacy, there are monuments in Union states such as Iowa, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania; pro-Union border states such as Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia and Maryland, and states that were territories during the Civil War, including Montana, Arizona and Oklahoma. While most people in Kentucky fought for the Union, the state is filled with Confederate monuments, including a towering 35-story obelisk at the birthplace of Jefferson Davis in Fairview.
The creation of these memorials reached their height between 1900 and 1930, then in the 1960s during the civil rights movement, as USA Today reported. New monuments are going up in this century, including 35 in North Carolina.
The move to remove these statues–which have received the support of a violent and racist neo-Confederate movement and groups such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans—has gained momentum following the terror attack at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015. Since that time, over 350 pro-Confederate flag rallies have taken place, as SPLC reports.
The city of Charlottesville, Virginia recently decided to remove its statue of Robert E. Lee, prompting KKK-style white supremacist rallies– complete with citronella tiki torches.
The only thing funnier than nazis sobbing over confederate monuments is that they came bearing citronella tiki torches. badass pic.twitter.com/yInUX8P0Uu
— Chris Mohney (@chrismohney) May 14, 2017
Mayor Michael Signer voted with a minority of the city council against moving the statue, on the grounds that we should not honor the Confederate cause, but should not erase history.
According to Edward H. Sebesta, an author and expert on the neo-Confederate movement, the removal of the Confederate monuments is exposing the banal white nationalist mindset of white America. He says people such as Signer will become the obstacle to blocking the removal of the statues.
“I think everyone needs to know that the most serious opposition that those who want to remove Confederate monuments face, isn’t white supremacists, neo-Confederates, or the Republican Party. It is a faction of public historians of which Kevin M. Levin, though he declares himself emphatically to be a neutral on the topic, is, I believe, the leading figure,” Sebesta told theGrio.
Sebesta argues that the push to remove Confederate memorials “will be most undermined by a collection of academics who will construct rationales and intricate arguments allowing those who want to keep a white landscape to tell themselves that they are motivated by sophisticated understandings of historical memory rather than race.” He adds they will use Richmond, Virginia–which apparently has committed to keeping their Confederate monuments in a rogues’ gallery on the tree-lined Monument Avenue mall, alongside a statue of African-American tennis legend Arthur Ashe—as an example to emulate.
Others choose to erect their own memorials against Dixie. John Sims, the Sarasota, Florida-based artist who became known for his burning and burial of the Confederate flag cross the South, took his efforts to all 50 states following the Charleston murders. This led to the creation of the annual Burn and Bury Confederate Flag Memorial, part of a multimedia project exploring “the complexity of identity, cultural appropriation and visual terrorism in the context of Confederate iconography and African-American culture.” This year’s event takes place on Memorial Day in Detroit.
“The goal of this annual action is to send a powerful message to the nation, especially under the Trump presidency and alt right politics that the Civil War is over, and the days of the Confederate Flag and white supremacy are numbered,” Sims said in a statement to theGrio.
“It is also a way to honor the memory of social justice soldiers who fought against slavery and for Civil Rights and everywhere in between, and those who continue to fight against contemporary institutional and cultural white supremacy.” Sims is sending the message that it is time for the Confederate flag to become a symbol of “cathartic action,” leading to a new ritual for healing and transformation.
But in the meantime, the Confederate statues must continue to topple.
Follow David A. Love on Twitter at @davidalove.