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More Than 100 Confederate-Era Symbols Have Been Removed Since 2015, Report Finds

MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA—A new study released by the American nonprofit and civil rights advocacy group the Southern Poverty Law Center reports that since the 2015 massacre of nine African Americans at the historic Mother Emanuel church in Charleston, South Carolina, which sparked a nationwide campaign to remove Confederate-era symbols, only 110 monuments, markers, and flags have been taken down.

Titled “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy,” the study claims that there are still 1,728 symbols commemorating the Confederacy in public spaces across the country. “These tributes are living symbols of white supremacy,” the Southern Poverty Law Center said in a statement. “They’re part of a 150-year propaganda campaign to revise history—to mythologize the ‘Lost Cause’ as a noble endeavor and to paint over the torture, murder, and enslavement of millions of African Americans.”

While the controversy over what to do with sculptures that honor the Confederacy has been debated for some time, politicians and activists called for their removal with renewed vigor after a photograph depicting Dylann Roof, the twenty-one year old who attacked the bible study group in Charleston, with a Confederate flag and gun was circulated by the media. The threatening of Confederate monuments has also raised tensions between southerns who view the statues as an emblem of their heritage and those who view them as symbols of racism, bigotry, intolerance, and the violence associated with the Jim Crow laws. 

In August 2017, the dispute over the monuments escalated when hundreds of white supremacists gathered in the city of Charlottesville, Virginia for a “Unite the Right” rally. The event was organized after the city revealed it would remove a statue of General Robert E. Lee from a public park. Nationalists protesting the city's decision to take down the work clashed with counterprotesters. Many people were injured and a female activist was also killed that day when a man intentionally drove his car into a crowd of pedestrians. 

In the days that followed the violence that erupted in the usually quiet college town, southern politicans declared they would reevaluate the public art in their cities. Some lawmakers acted swiftly, such as the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, who had three statues taken down in the cover of night. Others decided lengthier review processes that involved the community were needed. Mitch Landrieu, the former mayor of New Orleans, was very outspoken about the need to eliminate Confederate symbols. For his efforts, which led to the removal of four statues from the city, he was awarded the JFK award for his political courage.

According to the report's data, cities that have the most Antebellum-era symbols are Virginia with 242, Texas with 209, Georgia with 199, and South Carolina with 194. A breakdown of the remaning symbols is as follows: There are 772 monuments dedicated to the Confederacy, one hundred schools that are named for controversial figures such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, and eighty counties and cities, nine observed holidays, and ten military bases that are named for Confederates.

“We encourage communities across the country to reflect on the true meaning of these symbols,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center, which added that people should ask the question: “Whose heritage do they truly represent?”

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June 7, 2018