It took generations to erect all the nation’s Confederate monuments, and a new report shows they’re being removed at a pace of about three each month.
The study — released yesterday by the Southern Poverty Law Center — shows that 110 Confederate monuments have been removed nationwide since 2015, when a shooting at a black church in South Carolina energized a movement against such memorials.
The number — which includes schools and roads that have been renamed in California, a repurposed Confederate holiday in Georgia, plus rebel flags and monuments that have been taken down in Alabama, Louisiana and elsewhere — represents a relative handful compared with the more than 1,700 memorials that remain to hail the Southern “lost cause.”
But the change is notable considering that removing such memorials wasn’t widely discussed until the killing of nine black people at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, said Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal activist organization based in Montgomery that monitors extremism. White supremacist Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death for the 2015 attack.
After the Charleston shooting, photos surfaced of Roof posing with the Confederate battle flag, helping to change the national dialogue.
“I think it kind of signifies something monumental,” said Beirich, director of the organization’s Intelligence Project. “I think people are finally willing to confront the history and come to terms with it.”
Many of the Confederate monuments that are now controversial were erected in the early 1900s by groups composed of women and veterans. Some honor generals or soldiers; others bear inscriptions that critics say wrongly gloss over slavery as a reason for the war or portray the Confederate cause as noble.
The Old South monuments are supported by groups including the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is erecting new memorials even as others are removed. “They’re taking them down, and we’re putting them up,” said Thomas V. Strain Jr., commander-in-chief of the organization. He said the group isn’t tracking monument removals or name changes, but to him, 110 “seems a little high.”
Members have raised two giant Confederate “mega-flags” on private property and erected four monuments in Alabama alone this year, Strain said, and they’re asking to place a new Confederate monument outside the courthouse in Colbert County, in northwest Alabama. Commissioners are considering the request.
The organization also is building a new headquarters that will include The National Confederate Museum in Columbia, Tennessee. The organization, on its website promoting the project, said the museum will counter attempts by opponents “to ban any and all things Confederate through their ideological fascism.”
The museum will tell the “Southern side” of the war, Strain said. “It’s not just dedicated to the soldiers, it’s dedicated to the wives and children who had to endure that five years of hell also,” he said. “We’ll have Southern uniforms there, not Union uniforms. We’ll have Southern artillery shells, not Northern ones.”
Beirich said the law center’s list of monument removals was compiled through news accounts, tips and crowd-sourcing sites that let people make online reports. Both in tallying removals and remaining memorials, the group counted only monuments that “glorify” the Confederacy and didn’t consider historical markers that denote specific events or sites with a link to the past, such as informative signs at battlefields, she said.
While the organization lists 1,730 Confederate monuments nationwide, Beirich said there’s no doubt a lot more exist. “I am sure we have missed many,” she said.