Local Officials Call for Removal of Confederate Memorials After Charlottesville Violence

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Clockwise from top left: Roger Taney in Baltimore; Nathan Bedford Forrest in Memphis; Albert Pike in Washington, D.C.; and Wade Hampton in Columbia, South Carolina. Photo: Ron Cogswell (Taney & Hampton); Rob Shenk (Bedford); DB King (Pike)/CC/Flickr

In the aftermath of the deadly violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Saturday, local politicians in many cities and states issued calls to remove or destroy Confederate statues and memorials from public land.

The “Unite the Right” group that held Saturday’s rally was to meet at a soon-to-be-removed statue of Robert E. Lee on Saturday, but street violence and chaos erupted before the official event took place.

The long-standing debate over Civil War iconography around the United States — primarily in the South — has taken renewed urgency in the last several years amid several high-profile police shootings, the rise of movements like Black Lives Matter in response, and white-supremacist acts of violence like Dylann Roof’s slaughter at a South Carolina church. But it has become perhaps even more charged since the election of President Trump, which emboldened white nationalists who see the removal of such iconography as an existential threat.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of such markers all over the country, many constructed decades after the Civil War by neo-Confederates. Their removal often faces fierce local opposition.

Nonetheless, politicians and citizens pressed ahead to hasten their removal. Below, a rundown of notable developments on this front post-Charlottesville:

- On Saturday afternoon the mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, said he would accelerate the planned removal of statues of John C. Breckinridge, a U.S. vice-president and Confederate Secretary of War, and John Hunt Morgan, and another Confederate general. In a statement, he wrote that “the tragic events in Charlottesville today have accelerated the announcement I intended to make next week.”

- Jacksonville, FL City Council president Anna Lopez Brosche announced in a statement that she would prepare a plan to move all Confederate memorials off public property. She cited Charlottesville and wrote, “It is important to never forget the history of our great city; and, these monuments, memorials, and markers represent a time in our history that caused pain to so many.”

- The mayor of Baltimore, MD said she’d go ahead with the removal of Confederate statues from the city, and contacted contractors about beginning work. The Baltimore City Council unanimously endorsed her plan.

- Maryland’s House Speaker said the statue of Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, who handed down the Dred Scott decision, should be removed from the state house.

- Former NAACP president Benjamin Jealous called for Baltimore’s statue of Taney to be melted down.

- The city of Memphis, TN announced it would sue the state of Tennessee in an effort to get Confederate statues removed.

- A 113-year-old Confederate statue was removed from Gainesville, FL:

- Protesters gathered around one of Washington, D.C.’s many Confederate statues, this one of General Albert E. Pike:

- Protesters massed in Nashville, TN to call for the removal of a bust of Confederate hero Nathan Bedford Forrest:

But at least one public official was unmoved, and said so. Henry McMaster, governor of South Carolina, condemned the violence in Charlottesville but said, “We have been over these issues over the years. I think our people are different.” The South Carolina legislature voted to remove the Confederate flag that flew outside the grounds of the capitol in the wake of the Roof killings in 2015.

Calls to Remove Confederate Statues Accelerate