In June 2015, Dylann Roof entered the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, and proceeded to kill nine black people engaged in a bible study. Before he opened fire, Roof had posted photos of himself online waving the Stars and Bars and spitting on the American flag. The images made a direct link between racial hatred and Confederate symbolism. In the wake of the Charleston church massacre, there were impassioned cries for the removal of Confederate flags and monuments in public spaces in the United States.
Their voices joined the debate over the meaning of the Confederate flag and monuments that has raged in the United States since the Civil War. But it was rare for protestors, who pointed to the symbol's ties with racism and slavery, to successfully force public monuments to come down.
Charleston started to change that. A month later, the Confederate battle flag that had been hanging—and padlocked—to a pole at the South Carolina state capitol for half a century was officially removed. In the year since, many other Confederate monuments and memorials have also toppled.
Currently, David Graham at The Atlantic reports, there are about 1,500 Confederate monuments on display United States based on federal, state, and local data compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Just physically removing them would take years and millions of dollars, and overcoming public opposition has made the process even slower. But activists are making headway. Here are five efforts you should know about:
Vanderbilt Confederate Memorial Hall
When students move in to Vanderbilt University this weekend, only the words "Memorial Hall" will remain visible on one building in the freshmen commons. After 81 years, the building no longer bears the name "Confederate Memorial Hall," reports Richard Gonzales at NPR.
The university has been working to remove the word "Confederate" from the hall's name since 2002. But the United Daughters of the Confederacy, which gave a $50,000 donation for building's construction in 1935, sued the school, reports Blake Farmer at Nashville Public Radio, blocking Vanderbilt from getting rid of the name. The Tennessee Court of Appeals ruled the school could only remove the word "Confederate" if it paid the current value of the donation back, then an estimated $900,000. At the time, school decided they did not want to enrich the Confederate organization and left the inscription. Students and the university meanwhile took to referring to the dorm simply as Memorial Hall.
But last weekend, Vanderbilt announced enough was enough—it had received enough private donations to pay $1.2 million to the United Daughters of Confederacy so it could officially remove the word "Confederate" from the building. While the university is installing a temporary fix, later this year, a new pediment will be installed with the hall's new name, Nick Anderson reports for The Washington Post.
New Orleans Monuments
In December 2015, the New Orleans city council voted to remove four major city-owned Confederate monuments. They voted to remove monuments of General Robert E. Lee and General P.G.T. Beauregard, along with a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States of America. Also on the chopping block: a plaque honoring the “Battle of Liberty Place,” an 1874 clash in which members of the White Citizens League battled the municipal police, effectively ending Reconstruction and implementing segregation in the city. But there was a problem, reports the Associated Press: because the city didn't own the equipment to remove the monuments, it hired a contractor, H&O Investments to do the job.
While H&O workers were taking measurements of the monuments in early January, white supremacists and Confederate supporters set about sabotaging the project. Very specific threats were phoned into the company, and the owner’s Lamborghini was set on fire near his office in Baton Rouge. H&O dropped out of the project, and the city was unable to find another contractor, the AP reports.
The removal is now tied up in two lawsuits in federal court attempting to prevent, in the words of the plaintiffs' filing, the “needless damage to or destruction of four priceless works of art that have graced the New Orleans cityscape for more than a century.”
Louisville Confederate Monument
Back in April, the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, Greg Fischer, announced his intentions to dismantle a Confederate monument near the University of Louisville, reports Chris Kenning at The Courier-Journal. The Sons of Confederate Veterans then filed a lawsuit, claiming the mayor did not have the authority to get rid of the 121-year-old obelisk officially called “A Tribute to the Rank and File of the Armies of the South” and “To Our Confederate Dead.”
But in late June, Louisville prevailed: Jefferson Circuit Judge Judith McDonald-Burkman ruled that the city had the rights to the monument's placement, as Kenning writes.
The monument's future is uncomfirmed, but it will likely be dismantled and moved to a Confederate cemetery or nearby battlefield park, Kenning writes.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appointed seven members to a special commission to review Baltimore’s Confederate statues and historical assets last September. "It is important that we recognize the delicate balance between respecting history and being offensive,” Rawlings-Blake said at the time. According to the press release, four Confederate monuments on Baltimore City property would be reviewed by the commission: Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, located on Mount Royal Avenue near Mosher Street; Confederate Women’s of Maryland, located at Bishop Square Park; Roger B. Taney Monument, located on Mt. Vernon Place in North Park; and Lee & Jackson Monument, located in Wyman Park Dell.
In January, the committee recommended giving the Lee & Jackson Monument to the National Park Service, which could place it on a Civil War battlefield in Virginia. They also want the statue of Roger B. Taney, the fifth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court who authored the Dred Scott Decision, to be removed, writes Luke Broadwater at The Baltimore Sun.
"Roger B. Taney is a monument that symbolizes racism," commission member Donna Cypress said, as Broadwater reports.
As of now, there has been no final decision on the fate of the monuments.
Jefferson Davis at UT Austin
Soon after Charleston, the student government at the University of Texas, Austin, voted to remove a statue of Davis that stood on the South Mall of campus since 1933. The statue was taken down in July 2015 after a judge ruled against the Sons of the Confederacy, who sued to stop the removal. It is currently being refurbished and will be placed in a museum at the school’s Briscoe Center for American History, reports Scott Neuman at NPR.
Since then, there’s been a push toward de-Confederatizing in Texas, with 10 schools dumping names honoring rebel generals or politicians, reports Isabelle Taft at The Texas Tribune. Twenty-nine other schools, however, have not tried to change their Confederate names or have voted to keep them. School board meetings and votes about the name changes can get extremely heated, reports Taft.
Critics of Confederate names at schools argue that continuing to include them are a tacit support for the values of the Confederacy. “Of all the really sterling, inspirational figures of American history, to have to say this building is named for someone who took up arms against the U.S. and also fought so that other people would be held as slaves,” Jacqueline Jones, chair of UT-Austin’s history department tells Taft, “What kind of message does that send?”