Last night in Durham, North Carolina, a crowd tore down a statue of a Confederate soldier that stood in front of a county administrative building as part of a rally to combat white supremacy and support Charlottesville, Virginia after it was attacked for planning to remove another Confederate statue. Protesters chanted, “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA” as they toppled the statue. As the crowd cheered, some kicked the statue.
Via the Washington Post, the state’s governor objected to the removal of the statue, saying, “The racism and deadly violence in Charlottesville is unacceptable but there is a better way to remove these monuments.”
He’s wrong. The fact that these monuments are still up, in 2017, is what's unacceptable. The fact that people of color have to walk by these statues every day is what's racist and violent.
In a piece for Timeline published earlier this year, Matt Reimann detailed the history of these Confederate statues. Many of the statues’ constructions were spearheaded by white women in groups like the Ladies’ Memorial Association and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Reimann writes:
Like many in the former Confederacy, they grasped for a narrative that assigned dignity to the Southern antebellum tradition, while delicately integrating the reality of its defeat and submission to the modern industrial direction of the larger United States. In this light, they began to talk of the nobility of their culture, the unmatchable heroic valor of their outnumbered and outgunned warriors, states’ rights, and heritage — all while wordlessly preserving a society that had no interest in integrating or elevating millions of freed slaves.
Let’s be clear. The Civil War was about slavery. The Confederate Army fought for the right to own slaves. And they lost — 152 years ago. This legacy of racism should not be celebrated.
But over 1,500 public monuments to Confederate soldiers remain.
A Southern Poverty Law Center report published last year found at least 1,503 “examples of monuments and statues; flags; city, county and school names; lakes, dams and other public works; state holidays; and other symbols that honor the Confederacy” in public spaces across the country — including 109 public schools named for Robert E. Lee. “Most were put in place during the early decades of Jim Crow or in reaction to the civil rights movement,” the report notes. Most of the statues are in the former Confederate states, with the majority in Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina, but some are not — there are Confederate monuments in California and Massachusetts.
“Public governmental displays of Confederate monuments and other symbols undermine the promise of equality that’s the basis of our democracy,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “The argument that these tributes represent Southern ‘heritage’ ignores the heritage of African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved by the millions and later subjected to decades of oppression.”
Racial justice organization the Color Of Change has been working to remove these statues since white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine black people at the Emanuel African Methoist Episcopal Church in Charleston in 2015. In the wake of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville this weekend, they launched a petition to remove those 1,500+ statues, bearing the title “Take Em ALL Down: Remove Every Confederate Symbol in America.” They write:
Confederate statues are more than a mere symbol of a heritage but instead, they are an assertion of the continued imposition of white supremacy and its current political power. Terrorists in Charlottesville understood this and were willing to kill in the name of this, we must be determined to persist in the face of this white supremacist terror.
We must work to end the influence of today's White supremacists, removing all Confederate statues would be one step among many in sending the message that we are no longer honoring white supremacy at a societal level. We've already seen progress in Tampa and New Orleans, where Confederate symbols are being removed by Black-led organizing in the face of sustained white supremacist opposition. Join with me today and pledge to work to remove all Confederate statues in America.
On Twitter, people are pointing out that after the Revolutionary War, Americans tore down and melted statues of King George III; that today, 72 years after WWII ended, Germany has countless Holocaust memorials but no Nazi statues.
In 2015, in a memorable act of civil disobedience, activist Bree Newsome climbed a 30-foot flagpole to remove a Confederate battle flag that was displayed at the South Carolina State House. Last night, after the Durham Confederate statue was toppled, Newsome tweeted:
“Even tho monuments were erected by racists at time Blacks weren't allowed to vote, we're supposed to wait for removal the ‘right way.’ There was nothing right about the monuments being erected in the first place, so the only right way to remove them is immediately. And if you truly believe in the causes of justice & freedom & equality in USA, that shouldn't be a discomfiting thought for you. AT. ALL.”
Confederate monuments are a symbol of white supremacy. And they need to be taken down, immediately, in any way possible.
Top photo: Screenshot via RawStory
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