Confederate symbols across US highlight nation’s divided past
Ty Wright/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Echoes of the Confederacy are scattered across the U.S. in the form of hundreds of symbols that are a reminder of the nation’s divided past.
Last weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a rally by white nationalists, including neo-Nazis, skinheads and Ku Klux Klan members, over plans to remove a Robert E. Lee statue ended in the death of a counter-protester, has again put a renewed spotlight on America’s Confederate monuments, with many leaders increasingly calling for their removal.
As of 2016, approximately 1,500 Confederate symbols, which include everything from monuments, statues and flags to public schools, military bases and highways named for Confederate leaders, exist on public land from the South up to Massachusetts, according to a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Of these symbols, 718 are Confederate monuments or statues in public places.
Many were constructed in honor of the Confederacy almost immediately after the Civil War, but a number were dedicated much later, the study said. Two periods saw an especially notable rise in monument dedications: between 1900 to the 1920s, when states were enacting Jim Crow laws and the Ku Klux Klan was reawakened, and between 1950 to 1960, when segregationists clashed with civil rights activists during the Civil Rights Movement.
Those who say Confederate symbols should be removed from public grounds contend that they are racial flashpoints that glorify slavery, while supporters say Confederate symbols are meaningful relics of Southern heritage and history.
President Donald Trump fanned the flames of the debate this past week when he questioned the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, saying it would be “changing history.”
“You’re changing culture,” Trump said during the news conference at Trump Tower Tuesday.
Asked whether statues of Lee should remain in place in the U.S., the president said the situation was one that should be handled on a case-by-case basis, depending on the location of the monument. “I would say that’s up to a local town, community, or the federal government, depending on where it is located,” he said.
One of Lee’s descendants, Robert E. Lee V, suggested this week it would be better for Confederate symbols to be displayed in a museum.
“Eventually, someone is going to have to make a decision, and if that’s the local lawmaker, so be it. But we have to be able to have that conversation without all of the hatred and the violence. And if they choose to take those statues down, fine,” Lee V, 54, told CNN.
“Maybe it’s appropriate to have them in museums or to put them in some sort of historical context in that regard,” he said.
The vast majority of Confederate monuments are in the southern states, and the state with the most monuments was Virginia, which had 223 as of 2016, the study said. Virginia was followed by Texas with 178, Georgia with 174 and North Carolina with 140 as of 2016, the study said.
Mississippi, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida round out the top 10, the study said.
But Confederate symbols can also be found further north in states including New York, Iowa and Pennsylvania, which were all Union states during the Civil War.
A hundred and nine public schools in the U.S. are named for Confederate icons such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis. Most of these schools are in former Confederate states, but some are in California and Massachusetts, which were also Union states during the Civil War.
The U.S. also has 80 counties and cities named for Confederates as of 2016, the study said.
Confederate symbols have been a source of contention for years, and the debate returned to the forefront in June 2015, after nine black parishioners were shot and killed by avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof maintained a website on which he posted “a manuscript and photographs expressing his racist beliefs,” according to the federal indictment against him. In the manuscript, he used racial slurs and decried integration and the photos include one of Roof holding a Confederate flag, the indictment states. Roof was sentenced to death earlier this year.
The shooting prompted South Carolina to remove the Confederate flag from its State Capitol on July 10, 2015.
Shortly after last Saturday’s violence in Charlottesville, four Confederate monuments were removed under cover of darkness in Baltimore, Maryland. The next morning, Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she felt it was important to move quickly and quietly because of “the climate of this nation.”
And Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement Tuesday that he is asking the State House Trust to remove from State House grounds the statue of Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, who wrote the 1856 Supreme Court ruling that denied citizenship to African-Americans.
“As I said at my inauguration, Maryland has always been a state of middle temperament, which is a guiding principle of our administration. While we cannot hide from our history, nor should we, the time has come to make clear the difference between properly acknowledging our past and glorifying the darkest chapters of our history,” Hogan said.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said this week he plans to introduce a bill to remove a dozen Confederate statues from the U.S. Capitol.
And in Durham, North Carolina, some individuals took matters into their own hands, removing a Confederate soldier statue that’s been in front of the city’s courthouse since 1924. Protesters looped a rope around the statue, which depicts a Confederate soldier wielding a muzzle rifle and lugging a canteen and bedroll and is dedicated “in memory of the boys who wore gray,” and yanked the soldier from its concrete perch. While dragging it to the ground, the angry demonstrators stomped on the statue repeatedly.
But in Charleston, South Carolina, the mayor says he won’t try to remove any of the Confederate monuments in his city, according to The Post and Courier. Instead, Mayor John Tecklenburg said Wednesday he suggests adding context through plaques and new language.
“The whole story of our history needs to be told,” Tecklenburg said, according to The Post and Courier. “I intend to be complete and truthful about our history and add context and add to the story instead of taking away.”
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