Abraham Lincoln was elected president in 1860 on the promise of keeping slavery out of the territories. As a result, seven southern states seceded from the United States forming the Confederate States of America. Lincoln and most northerners refused to recognize the secession. This tension culminated in the Civil War which was fought from 1861-1865. After 625,000 lives were lost, the Confederacy surrendered in 1865. Today there are about 700 statues in the U.S. honoring the Confederacy. The time immediately after the Civil War saw the construction of some of the existing statues. Others were not placed until decades later when Confederate soldiers started dying. The construction of the majority of the statues took place between the 1890’s to 1950’s, coinciding with the Jim Crow era. Another spike of Civil War statues occurred during the civil rights movement.
Thirty cities have removed or are in process of removing statues as a result of growing opposition. The statue of the Confederacy’s top general Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA is one of the statues receiving opposition. After many people called for the statue to come down the city voted to have the statue removed. On August 12th, white nationalists held a “Unite the Right” rally to protest this decision. Counter-protestors marched against the rally.The white nationalists and counter-protesters clashed in the streets after the rally disbanded. A rally participant drove his car through a crowd of counter-protestors killing Heather Heyer, 32. Opposition to the statues has always existed in some form but the events in Charlottesville further ignited the debate.
Those in support of keeping the statues see them as an important part of history and remembrance. Supporters see the statues as a warning not to repeat the mistakes of the past and believe they are an important reminder that we cannot escape our history. Removing them would simply be whitewashing our history. In addition, supporters of the statues argue that the Civil War was about more than slavery. They argue that the Confederacy fought against an autocratic government trying to take away state’s rights. Those that want the statues to stay contend that Robert E. Lee in particular was an important figure in the reconciliation movement in the south after the Civil War. Supporters believe he deserves to be remembered for his involvement in this effort.
Some people that want to keep the statues agree that they are adding to the divisiveness of the country. However, instead of removing them they want to add something to the statues that will give context and keep the statues from glorifying the Confederate soldiers as heroes. Those that want the statues to stay caution that removing them will not take away the power of what they represent or fix the racial divide in our country. They argue that removing them would be taking the easy way out of the hard work that lies ahead for improving the future.
Those that oppose the statues see them as symbols of oppression and white supremacy. To the opposition, the timing of the statues proved that they were not created to preserve southern history. They point out that the increase of statues during times of civil rights tension show that they were clearly meant to send a message of white supremacy. The physical locations of the statues also adds to this message. The statues have been placed in public spaces and in front of government buildings, especially courthouses, as a way to intimidate those who fought against segregation and for equal rights. People who oppose the statues also argue that the symbols of the Confederacy and white supremacy are too closely intertwined to claim that they are not the same. Opponents believe that Confederate statues glorify and make heros of men who fought for slavery. They believe it is morally wrong to uphold those who fought to keep slavery in place. Descendants of some of the Civil War generals featured in the statues echo these arguments and support their removal.
A recent poll found that 54% of Americans would like the statues to stay in place. Are the statues an important part of America’s history or are they a painful reminder of our mistakes? Where do you stand?