Confederate Symbols in Monument and Memory - 2019.06.13

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Confederate Symbols in Monument and Memory follows ongoing contests over the placement of monuments to the Confederacy and other forms of commemoration on public grounds and examines debates over their purpose and implications. Questions over the placement of monuments to the Confederacy across the United States in recent months have revealed an unexpected leader in Confederate monument removal, brought greater attention to the parties and stakeholders underwriting campaigns to protect Confederate monuments, and added more proposals for relocating and replacing those monuments. Some of this week's news articles serve as teaching resources for introducing learners to the history and context of contemporary debates regarding Confederate monuments and their placement.


In 2017, the BBC published a brief analysis of the controversies surrounding Confederate monuments and memorials, utilizing reports by the Southern Poverty Law Center to contextualize the periods of original placement—predominantly between the 1890s-1920s and the 1950s-1960s—with those of removal. The latter began after the broadcasting of social media images of Charleston, South Carolina, church-shooter Dylan Roof with Confederate iconography, and the mass gathering of white nationalists and Neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia. Albeit brief, BBC coverage provides an accessible introduction for those new to debates and discussions surrounding Confederate monuments and their controversial placement. The article provides a valuable illustration—as a potential teaching resource for engaging students on the topic— of nuanced investigation of many perspectives on the issue.

“Why the fuss over Confederate statues?” BBC News, August 17, 2017.

 

Jack Bernard, a retired corporate executive, two-term Fayette County, Georgia, commissioner, and former Jasper County Republican Party chairman laments the recent passage of party-line legislation endorsed by Governor Kemp. The legislation intends to cement the placement of Confederate monuments for the foreseeable future. Bernard questions why rural legislators in historically red districts pushed a bill denying localized authority over Confederate memorials and monuments in more Democratic-leaning cities that glorify “traitors to our nation” and “protect a clearly incorrect version of which side was right and wrong.” Bernard attacks those behind the bill for “preserving the false ‘Lost Cause’ narrative of the Civil War, romanticizing it as a ‘state’s rights’ battle,” and challenges readers to consider why monuments like Stone Mountain, where KKK members annually pilgrimage for cross-burnings, was opened on the centennial of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

Jack Bernard, Opinion- “Kemp signs bill to protect Confederate Monuments,” The Newnan Times-Herald, May 29, 2019.

 

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Board of Governors remains in deliberation regarding the fate of the campus’s Silent Sam statue, erected in 1913 but felled by students protesting institutional white supremacy in August 2018. The Board of Governors has refused to announce a date by which plans will be determined, partly to avoid establishing an arbitrary deadline but also because the North Carolina Historical Commission, which is responsible for overseeing state monuments, has made no ruling since the statue’s removal. UNC’s recommendation of a 5.3 million dollar “historical center” for housing the statue was rejected by the Board of Governors and the statue currently remains in an “undisclosed storage facility.” Board Chairman Harry Smith says his perspective has “evolved greatly” and that despite ongoing delays, the task force remains “very deliberate” in working to “simply get it right.”

Kari Travis, “UNC Board of Governors Doesn’t Want to Restore Silent Sam,” Carolina Journal, May 29, 2019.

 

Thirteen plaintiffs have engaged Charlottesville City Council in a years-long lawsuit over the removal of monuments to Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, claiming council members violated Virginia state law by removing war memorials. The councilors, four of five represented by Jones Day, have been ruled personally culpable for voting to remove the monuments and are seeking a jury trial. Lisa Provence investigates the plaintiffs themselves, ranging from “First Families of Virginia” to “bow tie, upscale people tied to the League of the South” that are “slavery apologists,” highlighting the spectrum of backgrounds and rationales for involvement.

Lisa Provence, “The plaintiffs: Who’s who in the fight to keep Confederate monuments,” C-Ville Weekly, Charlottesville News, March 6, 2019.

 

State Senator Brandon Creighton (R) of Conroe, Texas, recently advocated for that state’s Senate Bill 1663, which “would restrict the ability of state agencies, cities, counties and public universities to remove or alter memorials” and “other symbols linked to the Confederacy.” Defending the imposition of state law over localized decision-making antagonistic to declared party platform, Creighton argued that “Texas actually leads in the number of monuments removed,” but neglected to mention that “it was among the states with the most symbols of the Confederacy to begin with.” PolitiFact distinguishes “monuments” from “memorials” and balances Creighton’s claims with data visualizations that illustrate differences in the total number of monuments/memorials across former Confederate states and the number removed.

Madlin Mekelburg, “It’s true, Texas has removed more Confederate monuments than other states,” Politifact Texas, May 10, 2019.

 

Dallas City Council decided to sell the city’s Robert E. Lee statue by 13-1 vote after searches for a new location “failed to receive any offers from institutions not tied to the Stars and Bars crowd.” An anonymous buyer by the alias LawDude placed the winning bid at $1,435,00, comfortably offsetting the almost $950,000 expended by the city in removing the Lee statue and nearby Confederate War Memorial. The decision dismayed one Virginian who felt inclined to comment on the matter, deriding the near-consensus decision to remove U.S. war memorials and likening Dallas and other Texan cities to “ghettos” where decisions are made that ignore the concerns and interests of the rest of the U.S. The Observer responded, noting that “the statues weren't monuments to the United States, but … to the Confederate States of America, a country that waged war on the United States and that no longer exists.”

Stephen Young, “Dallas Sells Its Robert E. Lee Statue, Enraging at Least 1 Virginia Confederate Apologist,” Dallas Observer, June 6, 2019.

 

At the outbreak of the Civil War, David Farragut, who would become the U.S. Navy’s first admiral and four-star admiral with an “illustrious naval career” spanning sixty years, fled north from his native home in Norfolk, Virginia, for “loyalty to the United States … a ‘betrayal’” only recently forgiven, it seems. Although several streets in Norfolk are named after Union vessels, and some are named after later civil rights leaders, none until now bore that of a Union officer or individual. A recent push by a retired rear admiral, Jack Kavanaugh, established a small corner park in that city where an abandoned building was cleared for light-rail development, named in Farragut’s honor.

Ryan Murphy, “Norfolk park honors Union admiral, a first for the southern city,” The Virginian-Pilot, June 8, 2019.


Confederate Symbols in Monument and Memory is an H-Slavery discussion series on monuments and memorials commemorating the Confederacy and historical memory. Coming posts will feature updates and new information on battles over Confederate symbols in other states, and look into bills proposed in Congress regarding their placement and removal. Thoughts and ideas are invited, please share by replying below.