In June 2015, a self-described white supremacist named Dylann Roof shot and killed nine African-Americans at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. In the aftermath of the mass murder, as photos emerged of Roof posing with the Confederate flag, a nation-wide movement began to remove public tributes to Confederate heroes.
A new report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reveals that at least 110 Confederate memorials in 22 states, including the District of Columbia, have been removed since the Charleston Church massacre. Many more, however, remain in place.
The organization began cataloguing Confederate memorials following the shooting “[i]n an effort to assist the efforts of local communities to re-examine these symbols,” the report explains. Among the symbols counted were monuments and flags, along with public schools, military bases, counties and cities named in honor of Confederate heroes. Researchers did not catalogue the thousands of Confederate tributes that stand on battlefields and cemeteries, or that are held by museums.
The 110 memorials that have been removed since the Charleston massacre include 47 monuments and four flags. The names of 37 schools, seven parks, three buildings and seven roads have been changed. Texas’ removals were more than any other state, doing away with 31 Confederate symbols over the past three years, according to the report.
“It's a community push to have conversations about race,” Heidi Beirich, intelligence project director for the SPLC, tells Doug Criss and Elizabeth Elkin of CNN.
Virginia removed the second-highest number of Confederate symbols (14), followed by Florida (9), Tennessee (8), Georgia (6), Maryland (6), North Carolina (5) and Oklahoma (5). Some of these memorials were taken down quietly. The removals of others were bitterly contested. Last summer, the decision to take down a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia, was met by a deadly white nationalist rally.
According to the report, the movement to do away with Confederate symbols suggests that “the myths and revisionist history surrounding the Confederacy” might be weakening their hold over the South. But the fact remains that many Confederate tributes have not been removed. The SPLC counted 1,728 symbols honoring “Confederate leaders, soldiers or the Confederate States of America in general” that remain standing. These include 772 monuments, more than 300 of which are located in Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia. The SPLC also catalogued 100 public schools, 80 counties and cities, and 10 U.S. military bases that remain named after Confederate icons.
Some states have even enacted legislation that makes the removal of Confederate symbols more difficult. In 2017, for instance, Alabama passed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which prohibits the removal, renaming or alteration of public monuments or other memorials that are more than 40 years old without state permission.
As the report acknowledges, some people believe that removing Confederate symbols is tantamount to erasing a chapter of United States history. But this argument, the SPLC states, “ignores the near-universal heritage of African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved by the millions in the South.”
“We encourage communities across the country to reflect on the true meaning of these symbols,” the authors of the report write, “and ask the question: Whose heritage do they truly represent?”