Posted on August 7, 2018

Confederate Memorials Turn Up Faster Than They Can Be Removed a Year After Charlottesville

Rick Hampson, USA TODAY, August 7, 2018


In the year since the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Aug. 12, 2017, about 75 Confederate memorials have been renamed or removed from public places across the nation, according to a study by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group.

That’s in addition to another 40 or so that were erased in the year after a white supremacist opened fire on a Bible study group in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

But today, the law center’s list of public Confederate memorials – monuments, place names, symbols, holidays – is 237 entries longer, at 1,740, than in 2016.

That’s because the same outrage that led to the removal of some memorials has led to the identification of others. Confederate sites, most of them established long ago, are being discovered faster than they’re being removed.


That explains, for example, why the organization’s tally of Confederate monuments (a subset of memorials) has increased from 718 in 2016 to 772, even though over the same period 49 monuments were removed. {snip}


A year later, the statues that prompted it all remain in place; state law prohibits local governments from “disturbing or interfering with” memorials to war veterans.

Old memorials, newly recorded

Most of the law center survey’s newly recorded memorials are not themselves new. Many date from 1890 to 1914, when the South reversed the effects of Reconstruction, systematically denied blacks the right to vote and redefined the primary Confederate war aim as the protection of states’ rights, not slavery. This theory, regarded as specious by most academic historians, is called “The Lost Cause.’’

But the increase in public Confederate memorials is not entirely a matter of record-keeping. At least 44 new ones have been established since the turn of the century.


Removing public monuments is neither easy nor cheap.


And if a change is made, it has a price tag. When officials in Roanoke, Virginia, decided last month to rename Stonewall Jackson Middle School, officials estimated the cost of changing everything from stationery to band uniforms to the basketball court floor at about $170,000.

The law center’s memorial tally doesn’t include memorials at battlefields, museums or cemeteries. It also doesn’t cover those on private property – even though they can have a public impact.

The Confederate Memorial of the Wind in the east Texas city of Orange has a circular colonnade with a pillar for each of the Confederate states. It sits near I-10 – on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

About a third of Orange residents are African-American, and when the monument was proposed, it aroused substantial opposition. But because it’s on private land, local officials said they had no standing to prohibit it.

Monuments to The Lost Cause

If there are too many Confederate memorials for a real national reckoning on the issue, there also is too little political support for their removal. Nothing proves the point like the case of Monument Avenue in Richmond, the former capital of the Confederacy.

There is no place in America quite like Monument Avenue – a broad, European-style boulevard whose four lanes of traffic are divided by a landscaped median and lined with elegant apartment houses, mansions and churches.

It is also an open-air argument for The Lost Cause. Its larger-than-life statues of Davis, Lee, Jackson and Gen. J.E.B. Stuart – the last three on horseback – were erected from 1890 to 1919, marking the South’s recovery from the Civil War and triumph over federal attempts to reconstruct its politics.

But Monument Avenue is also a supreme expression of the turn-of-the century “City Beautiful’’ movement. It’s a National Historic Landmark, and in 2007 the American Planning Association named it one of the nation’s “10 Great Streets.”


The question facing Richmond was the same one facing the nation. When is it permissible to tamper with a public historical artifact, even one with an unpalatable message? Can a memorial tell us an important story about the time it was created? Or can it be so offensive that it should be banished from the public realm?


But even in a city with a black majority, removing the statues lacked strong public or official support. In December, for example, the City Council rejected a proposed charter change that would give it authority to remove the statues.

Last month, after 11 months of work, the commission issued its recommendation: Add signs to put the statues of the three generals in historical perspective, and remove – if the law allows – the one of Davis.

The commission had a less publicized conclusion. What the city needed, it said, was to recognize other Civil War stories, such as the bravery of the United States Colored Troops, a regiment made primarily of former slaves that fought for the Union in a battle near Richmond in September 1864.