Do Confederate Statues Belong in Public Spaces?

In the aftermath of the violence in Charlottesville, resulting from the gathering of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, American cities are rethinking whether statues honoring the heroes of the Confederacy belong in public spaces.
August 25, 2017, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Katherine Welles

During his infamous, impromptu press conference at Trump Tower last Tuesday, President Donald Trump asserted, "Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch," in response to a question about the alt-right protest on the campus of the University of Virginia on Friday night, Aug. 11. "Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue, Robert E. Lee."

However, that statue, like others honoring heroes of the Confederacy, are symbols of white supremacy, writes Zack Beauchamp for Vox, who points to an April 2016 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, "Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy," that shows two distinct time periods when most of the statues were dedicated.

The first began around 1900, amid the period in which states were enacting Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise the newly freed African Americans and re-segregate society. This spike lasted well into the 1920s, a period that saw a dramatic resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been born in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War.

The second spike began in the early 1950s and lasted through the 1960s, as the civil rights movement led to a backlash among segregationists. These two periods also coincided with the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the Civil War.

In a compelling op-ed for The New York Times, Karen L. Cox, a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, makes the same historical point, and also illuminates the title of the SPLC report.

But the Charlottesville march, with its hundreds of neo-Nazis and white nationalists coming out to defend the memory of General Lee, puts the lie to the notion that, as the apologists say, these monuments are about “heritage, not hate.”

This is hardly new. Confederate monuments have always been symbols of white supremacy.

Cox is also cited by PolitiFact about when "Confederate symbols gain prominence." It confirmed that they were "political statements aimed at African-Americans."

It's worth noting that Robert E. Lee himself  "was against erecting Confederate memorials," writes Chris Boyette for CNN.

As to what to do with statues that are removed from public spaces, that's also an issue that cities are wrestling with. Dean Saitta, Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Urban Studies Program, University of Denver, identifies four options in his blog post below.
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Hat tip to Mike Keenly.
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Published on Tuesday, August 15, 2017 in Vox
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