John Burnett, NPR, October 6, 2020
About 60 Confederate monuments have come down across the U.S. amid a national reckoning on race — but nearly half as many localities that considered removing their statues have decided to keep them.
Since George Floyd’s death in May that sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice, there have been votes or decisions to protect 28 monuments, according to an NPR count.
These monuments — from Tallahassee, Fla., to Stone Mountain, Ga., to Cochise County, Ariz. — are among the nearly 700 Confederate memorials that remain on public land, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
NPR recently visited Marshall, Texas, and Shreveport, La. — neighboring cities that fiercely debated their Confederate monuments and had two different outcomes.
Back in July, it seemed like officials in Marshall — tucked in the piney woods of northeast Texas — were on the verge of moving their marble statue of a rebel soldier. The curly-haired infantryman gripping a muzzleloader rifle has stood beside the courthouse for 114 years.
But Marshall’s experience shows that Confederate statues are not so easy to topple.
In the city that was a stronghold of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi, people voiced their opinions for and against the statue for months. In mid-August, a proposal finally went before the Harrison County Commissioner’s Court.
County Judge Chad Sims read the motion “to relocate the [Confederate] soldier statue currently located on the east side of the Harrison County historic courthouse grounds to another acceptable and secure location.”
Then Zephaniah Timmins, the lone Black and Democratic commissioner, made his case: “I believe that history does not need to be destroyed, and I also don’t want the constant reminder of the suffering that my ancestors endured by the Confederacy.”
But when the county judge brought the motion to a vote, no commissioner would second it. Timmins quickly withdrew the motion before Sims could bring down his gavel, saving it for another day.
Statue defenders such as Jason Mosely, a local painting contractor, are grateful to the court.
“We just want to preserve history is all we want to do,” he said. “You can’t really go by what that statue says. The Confederacy doesn’t mean that slaves were part of it. That’s just a period of time is all it is.”
Head east on the interstate from Marshall — past truck stop casinos, an alligator park and the state line — and you arrive at a city that has taken a different course: Shreveport.
For nearly two decades, the Caddo Parish Commission debated what to do with the imposing Civil War memorial in front of the courthouse. Thirty feet tall, it features a rebel soldier, four Confederate generals and Clio, the muse of history.
But the commissioners always deadlocked: six Black Democrats versus six white Republicans.
At a meeting three years ago, Commissioner Matthew Linn, who is white and Republican, crossed over. He told the packed courtroom at the time: “My decision is not based on me being a Southern boy. My decision is based simply on the fact that I value the purity that a courthouse is supposed to stand for.”
The statue remains where it is three years later because of legal wrangling with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which erected the memorial in 1905. The parish plans to move it to a nearby Confederate cemetery, maybe early next year.
Historian Gary Joiner with Louisiana State University in Shreveport laments the loss of the monument, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, as representing “the Cult of the Lost Cause.”
“Certainly, Confederate monuments have offended a large part of the community,” Joiner said, “but you can’t look at anything that is so divisive from just one point. When you tear down history, you allow a dumbing-down of the past.”
For some folks, the statue represents ancestors who fought and died in the War Between the States.