More than 90 Confederate monuments were dismantled or moved from public spaces in 2020 following the death of George Floyd, according to new data from the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The latest data documents nearly 800 Confederate monuments that were in the United States at the start of the year, a number that dropped to around 700 by the end of 2020.
In August, the Montgomery, Alabama Legal Center found that 38 monuments had been removed in the nearly three months since Floyd’s death in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. This number alone was notable, as it had previously taken years for the database to register a similar number of statue removals.
An update to the “Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy” report released on Tuesday revealed that 56 other monuments had been removed.
“As seen on January 6, when an insurgent brazenly carried a Confederate flag through the halls of the Capitol, Confederate symbols are a form of systemic racism used to intimidate, instill fear, and remind black people that they have no place in American society. “The SPLC strongly believes that all symbols of white supremacy must be removed from public spaces and will continue to support community efforts to remove, rename and relocate them.”
Statues of prominent Confederacy figures are a common sight in the South, and Virginia is home to the most Confederate symbols. The report comes on the same day that Virginia lawmakers approved a bill to remove a statue of segregationist Harry F. Byrd Sr., who served as Virginia governor and U.S. senator, from the capital city of State.
Byrd, a Democrat, ruled the state’s most powerful political machine for decades until his death in 1966 and was seen as the architect of the state’s racist “massive resistance” policy to it. integration of public schools.
Like other symbols of Confederation, these memorials have been defended for generations as pieces of Southern heritage, or simply undisputed historical artifacts. But for many people, these are ubiquitous reminders of racial discrimination and violent oppression that have never gone away.
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Nearly 2,100 remain – statues, symbols, signs, buildings and public parks dedicated to the Confederation, although 168 of those symbols were removed in 2020, according to the SPLC. Only one of these symbols was removed before Floyd died.
Activists have long called for Confederate flags and symbols to be removed, but the accelerated removal of the statues has been fueled by widespread protests against systemic racism and police brutality following Floyd’s death, with more people linking Confederate monuments to white supremacy, according to Erin L. Thompson, professor of artistic crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Thompson said the movement saw a similar peak in June 2015 when a white supremacist shot and killed nine black parishioners during a Bible study meeting at the African Methodist Mother Emanuel Episcopal Church in Charleston, Carolina. Interest in removing these statues rose again in 2017 following Unite the Right Death Rally in Charlottesville, Va., Which opposed the proposed removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee, Thompson said. .
“Most of the time it seems like no one cares about them, so it takes those real moments of calculating, of changing,” she said.
But experts say it may be more difficult to remove the more than 700 statues that remain as widespread protests for racial justice diminish and lawmakers pass legislation to protect the remaining statues.
Amid the protests, it might have been easier for authorities to remove the controversial statues as they presented an immediate public safety concern, Thompson said.
Thompson, who writes a book on American monument controversies, said attention to Confederate monuments may wane in the face of other crises and political repression from state legislatures.
Lawmakers in states such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee have adopted policies to protect them.
Thompson added that a number of private lawsuits against city governments have also prevented communities from removing monuments.
“In a number of states, it is simply impossible to hold a community referendum or even for communities to make their own decisions about it,” she said. “The state legislature is trying to make it impossible to dismantle the monuments in any other way than violently during the protest.”
Thompson said the statues have often become a flashpoint amid historic events like the French Revolution and the fall of the Soviet Union because they are much easier targets than the regime itself. She said it was no surprise that statues claiming elite white males should hold power in America became a rallying point amid protests for racial justice.
“I think this is a real moment of change for art in America,” she said.
Contribute: The Associated Press
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