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Protesters gathered at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, in Richmond, Virginia, on September 16, 2017. Photo: Wikipedia.
Protesters gathered at the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, in Richmond, Virginia, on September 16, 2017. Photo: Wikipedia.

Confederate Monuments Removed Across America

As protests over the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police continue to take place across America, several states have committed to removing or have already taken down Confederate-era statues, condemned by activists as symbols of institutional racism. Many controversial public monuments served as rallying points for supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement and people demonstrating against police brutality, and were defaced or toppled in the ongoing nationwide demonstrations following Floyd’s death on May 25.

Randall Woodfin, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, ordered the removal of the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Linn Park on Monday, and had the 115-year-old statue carted away by crane despite not having the authority to do so—the move was in violation of the Alabama Monuments Preservation Act, a law passed in 2017 that prohibits the relocation, removal, or alteration of monuments. Woodfin was not deterred by the potential repercussions of his decision, telling that he would rather pay a state fine than have more civil unrest. Woodfin told NBC that he has since received death threats.

Early Wednesday, Philadelphia followed suit and rid Thomas Paine Plaza of a statue of former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo, notorious for his aggressive policing of black and gay communities. The work has been relocated to a storage area for the Department of Public Property. In a statement, Mayor Jim Kenney called the statue a “deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality” and said that the city was planning to move the monument during a 2021 renovation of the plaza, but realized that it needed to go sooner. “We now need to work for true equity for all Philadelphia residents, and toward healing our communities. The removal of this statue . . . is but a small step in that process.”

The momentum behind removing these controversial historic works from public view is continuing to build. On Thursday, Mayor Virginia Governor Ralph Northam revealed that he plans to dethrone the bronze effigy of Confederate general Robert E. Lee astride his horse, which has overlooked Richmond from a large pedestal on Monument Avenue since 1890. Northam told The Hill that he expects and is prepared for people to protest and has his answer ready. For Northam, it’s time to send a new message to people visiting the city, one that communicates that Virginia is willing to take an honest look at its past and “do more than just talk about the future.”

Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett also announced that the city will dismantle a thirty-five-foot-tall monument commemorating 1,616 Confederate soldiers who died as prisoners of war at Camp Morton. The memorial was relocated from Greenlawn Cemetery to its current home in Garfield Park in 1928 after public officials who were active members of the Ku Klux Klan advocated for a more visible location for the statue.

Hogsett said: “Our streets are filled with voices of anger and anguish, testament to centuries of racism directed at black Americans. We must name these instances of discrimination and never forget our past—but we should not honor them. Whatever original purpose this grave marker might once have had, for far too long it has served as nothing more than a painful reminder of our state’s horrific embrace of the Ku Klux Klan a century ago.”

The debate over Confederate monuments and what the nation should do with them has been revisited numerous times over the years. A white nationalist rally in 2017 that took place in Charlottesville, Virginia—culminating in protests and the death of a woman who was killed when a man intentionally drove his vehicle into a crowd—reignited the campaign to eliminate racist and Confederate symbols from America’s heritage sites. Activists also called for the removal of public artworks after nine people were fatally shot at a historic black church in Charleston in 2015.

The Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama, estimates that at least 138 public markers memorializing the Confederacy have been removed since 2015. The center has created a map of existing Confederate monuments, and of those that have been taken down, which can be found here.