Deadly rally accelerates removal of Confederate statues
By JESSE J. HOLLAND, Associated Press
In Gainesville, Florida, workers hired by the Daughters of the Confederacy chipped away at a Confederate soldier’s statue, loaded it quietly on a truck and drove away with little fanfare.
In Baltimore, Mayor Catherine Pugh said she’s ready to tear down all of her city’s Confederate statues, and the city council voted to have them destroyed. San Antonio lawmakers are looking ahead to removing a statue from a prominent downtown park.
The deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, is fueling another re-evaluation of Confederate statues in cities across the nation, accelerating their removal in much the same way that a 2015 mass shooting by a white supremacist renewed pressure to take down the Confederate flag from public property.
“We should not glorify a part of our history in front of our buildings that really is a testament to America’s original sin,” Gainesville Mayor Lauren Poe said Monday after the statue known as “Old Joe” was returned to the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which erected it in 1904.
Some people refused to wait. Protesters in Durham, North Carolina, used a rope to pull down the nearly century-old Confederate Soldiers Monument on Monday at a rally against racism. Dozens cheered as the statue of a soldier holding a rifle fell to the ground in front of an old courthouse building.
Many officials who were horrified by the events that killed one person and injured dozens more Saturday in Charlottesville soon began publicizing plans to take down statues.
The Southern Poverty Law Center last year counted more than 1,500 things around the country named after Confederate figures or dedicated to the Confederacy, including holidays, statues, flags and the names of cities, counties, schools and parks.
Nearly half are monuments, which are in 24 states. Most of the dedications are in the South, but 24 are in the North and 21 in states that did not exist at the time of the Civil War.
Not everyone is in favor of immediate destruction.
Martin Blatt, Northeastern University’s director of public history, said there should be a discussion at the local level about adding context to existing Confederate statues and adding new statues to mark prominent slavery or lynching sites throughout the South.
“I think simply destroying them or removing them and turning them into junk metal, there’s a nihilistic element to that. It’s wiping out history,” Blatt said. “However, looked at from the perspective of African-Americans … I can understand destruction. I think I would prefer removal out of public spaces.”
In Jacksonville, Florida, City Council President Anna Brosche ordered an immediate inventory of all of the Confederate statues in her city in preparation for their removal.
“These monuments, memorials and markers represent a time in our history that caused pain to so many,” she said Monday.
Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray moved up his announcement by a day in reaction to the weekend bloodshed. Memorials to John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan are perched outside a former courthouse that was the site of slave auctions before the Civil War.
San Antonio Councilman Roberto Trevino is promoting a measure that would remove the Confederate statue at the center of Travis Park, where for years people have mistakenly identified the figure as being that of Col. William Travis, a Texas hero who died at the Alamo.
“This is not an important art piece, but a monument to power. It was put in to remind people of that power. It is an unfortunate message of hate, and we think it’s important to relocate it,” Trevino said Monday.
In Memphis, Tennessee, City Attorney Bruce McMullen said Monday that he plans to file a petition to remove a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate cavalry general and an early leader of the Ku Klux Klan, from a park. The state historical commission has been blocking the move under a law that makes any push to remove historical markers harder.
In Nashville, protesters draped a black jacket over the head of a Forrest bust at the Tennessee Capitol while cheering, “Tear it down!” Republican Gov. Bill Haslam later said he didn’t think Forrest should be honored at the Capitol.
In Baltimore, Pugh announced Monday that she would move forward with the removal of Baltimore’s statues of Roger B. Taney, a Marylander who wrote the 1856 Dred Scott Supreme Court ruling that denied citizenship to African-Americans, and a statue of two Virginians, Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.
Pugh said she was making plans to send the statues to cemeteries with Confederate dead outside the city. But hours later, the city council voted unanimously to have the statues destroyed instead of moved. It was unclear whether anything would happen to the statues immediately.
The violence in Charlottesville probably will speed up efforts to do away with the monuments, experts said.
The convergence of white nationalists and neo-Nazis with Confederate imagery in Charlottesville will make it difficult for government agencies to defend having Confederate statues on their property, Boston University history professor Heather Cox Richardson said.
“The idea that this somehow is about Southern heritage, I think that ship sailed,” Richardson said.
Violence and death change things, agreed University of Georgia political science professor M.V. “Trey” Hood III.
Photos of gunman Dylann Roof, who fatally shot nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, showed him with a Confederate flag and triggered a swift “sea change” in perception of the banner, Hood said.
Then-South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley successfully led calls to bring down a Confederate flag that had flown on Statehouse grounds for 54 years. Other cities and organizations began accelerating their removal of Confederate imagery following Roof’s arrest.
Now local officials will find it harder to ignore or shelve questions about Confederate statues, Richardson said.
“It was always possible for people to look the other way,” she said. “After Charlottesville, I do not see how Americans can look the other way. You have to make a choice at this moment.”
This story has been edited to correct spelling of last name of San Antonio Councilman Roberto Trevino.
Associated Press reporters Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Kentucky; Erik Schelzig in Nashville, Tennessee; Jonathan Drew in Durham, North Carolina; and Jason Dearen in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this report.
Jesse J. Holland covers race and ethnicity for The Associated Press in Washington. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jessejholland or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/jessejholland .