Calls to remove Confederate statues and symbols surged across America this week, triggering a contentious national debate over the preservation of US historical monuments.
The demands appear to have been triggered by last week’s rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in which far right white nationalists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue of General Robert E. Lee clashed with the far left-wing Antifa group and other counterprotestors. A 32-year-old legal assistant, Heather Heyer, was killed when James Alex Fields rammed his car into a group of counterprotestors.
The event prompted groups across the country to demand the removal of “racist” statues and symbols, as well as the renaming of schools, building and highways named after Confederate politicians and generals.
At present there are just over 700 Confederate monuments across the country, according to a 2016 Southern Poverty Law Center study. More than a third are located in North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia. The US National Park Service also preserves a large number of monuments at historical battlefield sites across the United States.
On Monday evening, a group of vigilantes tore down a statue at the Old Durham County Courthouse in North Carolina. One man used a ladder to ascend the Confederate Soldiers Monument, which was erected in 1924, while others dragged it to the ground by a rope.
Video footage shows a number of cultural revolutionaries kicking and spitting on the statue, shouting “No KKK! No fascist USA!” Seven people were arrested following the incident.
— Derrick Lewis (@DerrickQLewis) August 14, 2017
On Wednesday night, Chicago police found a large bust of 16th US president Abraham Lincoln burned to a crisp in the West Englewood area. The statue was spray-painted black two weeks prior by vandals, and on this occasion it had been covered in tar, wrapped in roofing paper and then set alight. Abraham Lincoln never owned slaves and actually helped to free black people during the American Civil War.
Yesterday, members of the Take ‘Em Down NOLA organization and Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement marched through New Orleans demanding the removal of an iconic statue of seventh US president Andrew Jackson in the Louisiana city’s French Quarter. Although four Civil War monuments had already been removed earlier this year, protestors told reporters that it was not enough.
The Washington Post added fuel to the flames by publishing an article titled “Rebel base names, statues disgrace U.S. military facilities and Congress”. It took aim at the 10 military bases named after Confederate leaders and criticized Civil War memorial symbols and flags that often appear in congressional buildings. “Honoring the traitors and racists of the Confederacy, particularly by the U.S. government, should be as unthinkable as providing them president succor,” the author proclaimed.
President Donald Trump took issue with what many see as a brazen and unnecessary attack on America’s cultural heritage. He tweeted, “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of beautiful statues and monuments.”
In a press conference, he implied that calls to take down monuments and symbols would escalate beyond Confederate figures. “So will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson?” he said.
Further events appear to support this assumption. A pastor in Chicago last week requested a bronze statue of first US president George Washington be removed from a local park. He also demanded that Washington and Jackson parks be renamed, claiming that the city administration should refuse to venerate slave owners in black neighborhoods.
“In an African-American community, it’s a slap in the face and it’s a disgrace for them to honor someone who was a slave owner,” he said, stating that the former US presidents were no heroes to black people.
Protests against historical monuments and symbols also spread to the West Coast. Hundreds of left-wing activists last week demanded statues of Confederate veterans be removed from the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, threatening to vandalize them if their demands were not immediately met. On Wednesday, a plaque in honor of Democrat and former Confederate President of the United States Jefferson Davis was quietly removed from the Horton Plaza Park fountain in San Diego.
In spite of the sudden increase in calls for these symbols to be discarded, a recent National Public Radio (NPR) poll revealed that at least 62 percent of Americans are opposed to the removal and defacing of American historical monuments.