At least 110 Confederate memorials or symbols have been removed from public spaces across 22 states and the District of Columbia in the last three years, ever since a white supremacist opened fire on a black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.
That’s according to a new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which started counting Confederate statues, flags, and other monuments scattered across America following the massacre, which left nine black parishioners dead and sparked a national debate about the meaning of those symbols.
While some removals have triggered protests or even violence, most have happened quietly. Days after plans to remove a statue of a Confederate general in Charlottesville, Virginia, triggered the deadly Unite the Right rally last August, Baltimore’s mayor ordered the removal of two Confederate statues from a city park. The removal took five hours and was done overnight.
But even as some Confederate memorials have been brought down, new ones have been dedicated. SPLC counted at least three new Confederate memorials dedicated since 2015. A simple stone marker commemorating “unknown Confederate soldiers” was unveiled in a private park in Crenshaw County, Alabama, last August, less than two weeks after the Charlottesville rally.
And many of the hundreds remaining in the United States are now protected by new laws that make it harder for local town officials to remove them. For example, in May, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed a bill that says local municipalities have to seek permission from the state’s Historical Commission, whose members include individuals from a pro-Confederate group, before removing memorials.
“People across the country are waking up to the reality that these tributes to the Confederacy perpetuate the idea of white supremacy and glorify a regime that supported the torture, murder and enslavement of black people,” said Heidi Beirich, director of SPLC’s Intelligence project, in a statement.
The majority of the monuments counted by SPLC were erected long after the Civil War had ended, as part of what’s known as “The Cult of the Lost Cause,” starting in the late 19th century. Most Confederate monuments in the U.S. were erected between 1890 and 1940, according to James Loewen, a sociologist and historian at the University of Vermont has written numerous books about Confederate iconography.
Proponents of the Cult of the Lost Cause are essentially historical revisionists who reject the notion that those who fought for the South were fighting to preserve the institution of slavery. Their critics say that their statues and monuments to the Confederacy are dog whistles to white supremacy.
Loewen believes this is happening in part because Lost Causers are now on the defensive. “Ever since Charleston, Confederate monuments have been looked at differently,” he said. “We now realize what we should have seen all along: they not only normalize treason on behalf of slavery, they heroify it.”
The SPLC identified 1,728 publicly sponsored Confederate symbols scattered across 23 states and Washington D.C. That excludes historical sites like battlefields or cemeteries.
SPLC excluded from its count the thousands of memorials that are located in a historical settings, like museums, battlefields or cemeteries.
“I think 30 years from now, we'll look back on such statues, such as the big one just in front of the Mississippi state capital, and say, ‘we actually had this up?" Loewen said. "This was actually at the seat of governmental power?’ In other words, I think they will all be gone."
monuments at courthouses, town squares, state capitol buildings or other public venues.
- 581 were dedicated before 1950
- 29 were dedicated between 1950 to 1970
- 38 were dedicated (or re-dedicated) after 2000
Here are the top eight states with the most monuments today:
- Georgia: 115
- Virginia: 108
- North Carolina: 97
- Texas: 68
- Alabama: 60
- South Carolina: 58
- Mississippi: 52
- Arkansas: 41
Public schools named for Confederate leaders
- 38 honor Confederate General Robert E. Lee
Major U.S. military bases are named for Confederate military icons
Observed state holidays in five states
- Eleven states have a combined total of 22 Confederate holidays or observances enshrined into their codes.