The national movement to remove Confederate monuments may only be starting.
The clash in Charlottesville surrounding the removal of Robert E. Lee’s statue in Emancipation Park has ignited a rebellion in cities. Nationwide this week, several mayors and governors have waded into the debate over the removal of these emblems of the Lost Cause.
The movement echoes the aftermath of the 2015 shooting in the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, which led to the removal of the Confederate flag on the South Carolina capitol grounds. At that time, several cities experienced protests over the ubiquitous symbols of the Confederacy scattered all across the United States. But last weekend's events, combined with President Trump’s statements about white supremacists, have accelerated city efforts to get these monuments out of the public eye, following the example set in New Orleans by Mayor Mitch Landrieu in April.
Just this week, we've seen a (shoddily made) Confederate soldier statue easily toppled by protesters in Durham, North Carolina, followed by a proposal from the state’s governor, Roy Cooper, to remove all of the state's Confederate monuments. Baltimore quietly trucked off its four statues in the wee hours Wednesday, with Annapolis and Frederick right behind. The Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles returned a Confederate marker to its owners. In Gainesville, Florida, a Confederate statue called “Old Joe” was relocated from the city’s downtown to a private cemetery (via the terms of an agreement reached in May after two years of debate).
Opposition to Confederate monuments has even borrowed from the tactical urbanist playbook: A resourceful protester in Phoenix turned the city’s Confederate Memorial into a Civil War “Participation Trophy.”
However, a national effort to thoroughly de-CSA the USA faces some daunting numbers: As of August 2016, statues make up only about half of Southern Poverty Law Center's list of at least 1,503 symbols of the Confederacy maintained by public funds. President Trump has made it very clear where he stands on the issue.
But one thing is clear: Some of these monuments are coming down, fast. Which ones? Here’s a nationwide roundup of some of the most significant Confederate memorials facing removal today after the Charlottesville tragedy.
The former capital of the Confederate States of America might also prove the toughest line to break for anti-CSA activists. On Monument Avenue, a grassy mall separates eastbound and westbound traffic in the city with statues of Civil War generals Robert E. Lee, J.E.B. Stuart, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, as well as CSA president Jefferson Davis and Confederate naval commander Matthew Fontaine Maury.
Those Confederate statues were all erected between 1890 and 1929, during the height of the Jim Crow era, and today, they loom large as symbols of racial inequality over a city that is about 50 percent African American and 40 percent white. In 1995, a statue of African-American tennis player Arthur Ashe was added.
In June, Mayor Levar Stoney appointed a ten-person commission to study the Confederate memorials. Before the events at Charlottesville, hundreds of people packed into the first community meeting on August 10, a gathering the AP described as “contentious and chaotic.” Despite Stoney’s personal feeling that the monuments are “very offensive,” he said as late as August 14 that he wanted the statues to stay, but with context. On Wednesday, Stoney tweeted out an expansion of that commission’s mandate.
Effective immediately, Monument Avenue Commission will include examination of removal and/or relocation of some or all confederate statues— Levar M. Stoney (@LevarStoney) August 16, 2017
A second public meeting for the commission is set for next month. In an open letter to Mayor Stoney and the members of the commission, two descendants of Stonewall Jackson voiced strong support for the removal of their great-great-grandfather’s statue: “We choose to stand on the right side of history.”
Verdict: As the Civil War song goes, Richmond is a hard road to travel. Stoney’s earlier position of providing “context” demonstrates the sensitivity calculated into the city’s politics. Before the commission weighs in, the mayor first has to consider a pending application for a rally planned in defense of the monuments in September. As the closest major city to Charlottesville, Richmond may be the next battleground for a white supremacist movement that aims to make the seat of the Confederacy a national symbol.
On Tuesday, Birmingham’s Mayor William Bell ordered the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park to be covered. Efforts to remove the obelisk began two years ago, when a resolution by the Birmingham Park and Recreation Board asking city attorneys to research the removal of the monument passed unanimously. The state of Alabama has responded with a lawsuit.
Verdict: We’ll see. Mayor Bell had said previously that he would not break the law by removing the statue (violating that law would result in a $25,000 fine, and a GoFundMe campaign has even started to cover the fine). But he will challenge the state law that prohibits local governments from moving historical monuments that was signed into law in May. Otherwise, it’s in the hands of the judge to decide whether this law can stand, but if Alabama’s preemption of minimum wage is any precedent, it seems unlikely to budge.
New York City
The Big Apple was the site of the infamous Civil War draft riot, and there are Confederate monuments lurking among the five boroughs. So far, Governor Cuomo has announced the removal of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson from the CUNY Hall of Great Americans and two plaques in Brooklyn at the bottom of a tree dedicated to General Lee have already been removed by religious leaders. We’ll see how many remain after Mayor Bill de Blasio’s review finishes in three months.
After the violent events in Charlottesville, New York City will conduct a 90-day review of all symbols of hate on city property.— Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) August 16, 2017
Verdict: Once they’re found, they’re going down.
Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee
On Monday, protesters in Tennessee’s Capitol building in Nashville demanded the removal of the bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest, the notorious Confederate general and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. In Memphis, there have been renewed calls to remove two Confederate statues from public parks. Both fall under the Tennessee Heritage Protection Act of 2016, which Governor Bill Haslam signed into law despite his declared objection to it at the time. (Tennessee allows a simple majority to override the governor's veto). That law forbids monuments from being “relocated, removed, altered, renamed, rededicated, or otherwise disturbed” without a waiver granted by a two-thirds vote by the Historical Commission of 29 people. The bust in the Capitol also requires a majority vote by the Capitol Commission. Haslam voiced support for removing the Forrest bust. “I do not believe Nathan Bedford Forrest should be one of the individuals we honor at the Capitol,” he said in a statement. However, he deferred to the Capitol Commission and Historical Commission.
Meanwhile, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland has filed a waiver to remove that city’s two statues. Activists held a protest against a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Memphis Park (formerly Confederate Park) and also are calling for the removal of a statue of General Forrest in Health Science Park before the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis next year.
We indeed want the statues gone. However, unlike in other places, a state law governs their removal. We are seeking a waiver. -- Staff— Mayor Jim Strickland (@MayorMemphis) August 16, 2017
Verdict: It's more likely than ever. Governor Haslam may now have the political winds at his back to take the position he held during the uphill battle last year. In Memphis, the MLK anniversary deadline adds a symbolic weight and moral clarity to any political foot-dragging. But who knows what happens to this amusingly awful 1998 sculpture of Forrest on I-65 in Nashville.
On Monday, Anna Lopez Brosche, president of the Jacksonville City Council, called for the removal of Confederate monuments from public property. Among them: a 62-foot granite monument topped with a Confederate soldier in Hemming Park right by City Hall that represents the Jacksonville Light Infantry. “It’s really important to me that we recognize that we have part of the community who sees the monuments, markers, and memorials as part of our history, part of our heritage,” Brosche said. “It’s also really important to me to recognize that there’s a part of the community that views these memorials and markers as a symbol of times that evokes some really negative emotions, and pain and hurt.”
Verdict: Too early to tell. The Florida Times-Union count of the other 18 city council members is inconclusive: four members were in favor of Brosche’s plan, while two opposed, five approved of a discussion without a full endorsement, and seven members did not respond.
In the U.S. Capitol, there are at least 12 statues of Confederate figures in Statuary Hall. And Senator Cory Booker is on it:
I will be introducing a bill to remove Confederate statues from the US Capitol building. This is just one step. We have much work to do.— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) August 17, 2017
Verdict: Pass the popcorn, Mitch McConnell.
This city* in the former border state has two statues of lesser-known Confederate figures at its courthouse: One is of John Hunt Morgan, a Confederate general, and John C. Breckinridge, the last Confederate Secretary of War.
I am taking action to relocate the Confederate statues. We have thoroughly examined this issue, and heard from many of our citizens.— Mayor Jim Gray (@JimGrayLexKY) August 12, 2017
Verdict: They’re going down just as quickly as you forgot who they were. The Lexington city council voted unanimously Tuesday to remove the two statues from the lawn of the former Fayette County courthouse. A final vote in the Lexington County Council is set for Thursday. Mayor Gray has 30 days to relocate the statues. Meanwhile, Louisville is also set to review its public art, listing any that could be seen as honoring bigotry, racism, or slavery.
Verdict: It’s outta here. The New England state’s lone CSA marker at Fort Warren on Georges Island has been boarded up and ready to go since June 2017. The Department of Conservation and Recreation and Massachusetts Historical Commission are exploring relocation options at the request of Governor Charlie Baker.
Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston, Texas
The Lone Star State has the second-largest number of publicly funded Confederate landmarks. In 2015, the University of Texas Austin moved their Jefferson Davis statue, and Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings has created a task force to address that city’s statues. San Antonio saw protests last weekend against the removal of its Confederate memorial in Travis Park. Houston has seen some small protests after Charlottesville for removing the Spirit of the Confederacy movement in the city's downtown.
Verdict: Too early to call.
Twenty miles from downtown Atlanta looms Stone Mountain, which boasts a huge bas-relief carving of three Confederate leaders—Davis, Lee, and Jackson. The Mount Rushmore of the Confederacy was started in 1916 but not officially completed until 1972. On Tuesday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams called for its removal, joining a number of Twitter critics with some ideas on who should replace the CSA trio.
This is the final boss of confederate monuments. We're not stopping unless we replace these scumbags with Outkast. pic.twitter.com/HdqepIDTwe— Metro Atlanta DSA 🌹 (@MetroATLDSA) August 15, 2017
Verdict: Let freedom ring. Much as Stone Mountain screams for ATLiens-style justice, it is specifically protected by Georgia law. But there’s a running proposal to top the big rock with a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr., and a replica “liberty bell,” as an allusion to MLK’s shoutout to the mountain in the “I Have Dream” speech.
As a native son of the town, I’m going to recuse myself from weighing into the controversy over Gettysburg’s Confederate statuary, and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s list seems to have done the same: It excludes battlefields and cemeteries from its tally of publicly funded Rebel monuments.
In a certain light, Gettysburg is the ultimate civil rights demonstration—with a battle and a speech bolstering its credentials as the hometown of “a new birth of freedom.” Yet the grounds of the three-day battle are peppered with dozens of Confederate monuments, and its High Water Mark serves as a kind of Mecca to Lost Cause Southerners. But I will leave you with the words of General Robert E. Lee, as he declined an invitation in 1869 to commemorate the battle he so very badly lost:
I believe if there, I could not add anything material to the information existing on the subject. I think it wiser, moreover, not to keep open the sores of war but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife, to commit to oblivion the feelings engendered.
With additional reporting by Brentin Mock
*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified Lexington as the capital of Kentucky.