Deadly rally in Charlottesville accelerates removal of Confederate statues
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Virginia — 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 accelerating the removal of Confederate monuments in cities across the nation in much the same way that a 2015 mass shooting by a white supremacist led to the end of the Confederate flag being flown on 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 a nearly century-old statue of a soldier holding a rifle in front of an old courthouse.
Many officials who were horrified by the events that killed one person and injured dozens more Saturday in Charlottesville soon began publicizing plans to remove statues.
Not everyone is in favor of destruction.
A law professor and director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio called removal a “slippery slope,” saying judging historical figures through a modern lens can be difficult.
“A healthy democracy and people within that democracy should be able to say, ‘This is our history.’ And history is made up of actions of human beings, and human beings aren’t perfect,” said Jeffrey F. Addicott, who stressed he was speaking for himself and not the law school.
Statues, he added, can be moved, but he’s opposed to them being “put in a warehouse never to be seen again because then you’re kind of erasing or rewriting history.”
The director of public history for Northeastern University in Boston suggested 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,” Martin Blatt said. “However, looked at from the perspective of African-Americans … I can understand destruction.
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.
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 Forrest should not 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 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 College history professor Heather Cox Richardson said.
“The idea that this somehow is about Southern heritage, I think that ship sailed,” Richardson said.
After Dylann Roof fatally shot nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, 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 speeded up 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.”