The Robert E. Lee monument in New Orleans being lowered, May 19, 2017

In the wake of the Charleston church shooting in June 2015, several municipalities in the United States removed monuments and memorials dedicated to the Confederate States of America, which before the Civil War had supported the continuation and expansion of slavery. The momentum accelerated in August 2017 after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, turned violent.[1][2][3]

The removals were driven by the belief that the monuments glorify white supremacy and memorialize a government whose founding principle was the perpetuation and expansion of slavery.[4][5][6][7][8] Many of those who object to the removals claim that the artifacts are part of the cultural heritage of the United States.[citation needed] Historically, the vast majority of these Confederate monuments were built during the Jim Crow Era and Civil Rights Movement as a means of intimidating African Americans.[9][10] The monuments have thus become highly politicised; according to Eleanor Harvey, a senior curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and a scholar of Civil War history: "If white nationalists and neo-Nazis are now claiming this as part of their heritage, they have essentially co-opted those images and those statues beyond any capacity to neutralize them again".[4] The removal of some Confederate monuments has lead to calls to remove monuments to non-Confederate historical figures.


See also: Lost Cause of the Confederacy

Number of Confederate monuments, schools and other iconography established by year. Most of these were put up either during the Jim Crow era or during the Civil Rights movement, times of increased racial tension.[11] The year 1911 saw the largest number constructed, which was the 50th anniversary of the Civil War.

Many of the Confederate monuments concerned were built in periods of racial conflict, such as when Jim Crow laws were being introduced in the late 19th century and at the start of the 20th century or during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.[a][b] The peak in construction of Civil War Monuments occurred between the late 1890s up to 1920, with a second, smaller peak in the late 1950s to mid 1960s.[13]

Adam Goodheart, Civil War author and director of the Starr Center at Washington College, stated in National Geographic: "They’re 20th-century artifacts in the sense that a lot of it had to do with a vision of national unity that embraced Southerners as well as Northerners, but importantly still excluded black people."[4]

History of removals

The removals were marked by events in Louisiana and Virginia within the span of two years. In Louisiana, after the Charleston church shooting of 2015, the city of New Orleans removed its Confederate memorials two years later.[14] A few months later, in August 2017, a state of emergency was declared in Virginia after a Unite the Right rally against the removal of the Robert Edward Lee statue in Charlottesville turned violent.[15]

Other events followed across the United States. In Baltimore, for example, the city's Confederate statues were removed on the night of August 15–16, 2017. Mayor Catherine Pugh said that she ordered the overnight removals to preserve public safety.[16][17] Similarly, in Lexington, Kentucky, Mayor Jim Gray asked the city council on August 16, 2017 to approve the relocation of two statues from a courthouse.[18][19] A different event occurred in Durham, North Carolina, where several protesters toppled the Confederate Soldiers Monument outside the Old Durham County Courthouse on August 15, 2017. Eight activists were arrested in connection with the illegal action.[20]

Laws prohibiting removals

In Alabama (2017), Mississippi (2004), North Carolina (2015), South Carolina (2000), and Virginia (1902), state laws prohibit the removal or alteration of monuments. Attempts to repeal these laws have not yet (2017) been successful. Alabama's law, the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, was passed in May 2017, North Carolina's law in 2015.[21]

The removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol required a 2/3 vote of both houses of the legislature.[22]

Removed monuments



District of Columbia










New York

North Carolina


South Carolina

The Confederate flag was raised over the South Carolina statehouse in 1962. In 2000 the legislature voted to remove it and replace it with a flag on a flagpole in front of the Capitol.[73] In 2015 the complete removal was approved by the required 2/3 majority of both houses of the Legislature.[74]

In 2017, the Confederate flag and pictures of Jackson and Lee were removed from the York County courthouse.[75]


Confederate Memorial Hall in 2006.



Lee sculpture covered in tarp following the Unite the Right rally



A plaque in a Montreal Hudson's Bay Company store commemorating Jefferson Davis' brief stay in the city was installed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1957; it was removed following the Charlottesville rally, under pressure from the public.[98][99]

Legal disputes

In August 2017, immediately after William A. Bell, the mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, draped a Confederate memorial with plastic and surrounded it with plywood with the rationale "This country should in no way tolerate the hatred that the KKK, neo-Nazis, fascists and other hate groups spew", Alabama Attorney General, Steve Marshall, sued Bell and the city for violating a state law that prohibits the "relocation, removal, alteration, or other disturbance of any monument on public property that has been in place for 40 years or more".[100]

Academic debate

According to historian Adam Goodheart, the statues were meant to be symbols of white supremacy and the rallying around them by white supremacists will likely hasten their demise.[101] Elijah Anderson, a professor of sociology at Yale University, said the statues "really impacts the psyche of black people."[102] Harold Holzer, the director of the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College, agreed that the statues were designed to belittle African Americans.[103]

Eric Foner, a historian of the Civil War and biographer of Lincoln, argued that more statues of African-Americans like Nat Turner should be constructed.[102] Alfred Brophy, a professor of law at the University of Alabama, argued the removal of the Confederate statues "facilitates forgetting", although these statues were "re-inscribed images of white supremacy". Brophy also stated that the Lee statue in Charlottesville should be removed.[102]

Other targeted monuments

The removal of some Confederate symbols has inspired calls to the remove other monuments felt by some to be inappropriate today:[104]

The French Quarter's Joan of Arc statue prior to its defacement.

See also

Further reading


  1. ^ Graham (2016) "Many of the treasured monuments that seem to offer a connection to the post-bellum South are actually much later, anachronistic constructions, and they tend to correlate closely with periods of fraught racial relations".[12]
  2. ^ Graham (2016) "A timeline of the genesis of the Confederate sites shows two notable spikes. One comes around the turn of the 20th century, just after Plessy v. Ferguson, and just as many Southern states were establishing repressive race laws. The second runs from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s—the peak of the civil-rights movement."[4][12]


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