Only days after Charlottesville was engulfed by an alt-right rally, cities across the United States have pledged to take down monuments commemorating Confederate war heroes.
The mayors of Baltimore, MD, and Lexington, KY, both said they’d push ahead with plans to remove statues memorializing Southern icons of the Civil War.
Adding on to existing initiatives in Maryland and Kentucky, officials in Memphis, TN, and Jacksonville, FL, announced new directives aiming to take down tributes to the Confederacy.
Tennessee’s Republican governor, Bill Halsam, urged lawmakers to remove a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest from the State Capitol. Forrest was both a Southern general and an early member of the Ku Klux Klan who later renounced his racist beliefs and petitioned for blacks to be allowed into American law schools.
Last Saturday’s ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, VA, garnered significant attention as being potentially “the largest hate-gathering of its kinds in decades in the United States.” The march centered around the city’s Emancipation Park, which features a statute of revered Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Violence broke out in Charlottesville before the event was even scheduled to start. Torch-bearing white supremacists marched across the University of Virginia’s campus Friday night. Neo-Nazis and slogan-shouting racists converged on Emancipation Park prior to the rally’s designated start, intermittently brawling with counter-protesters.
The day ended in tragedy, after 20-year old James Fields, Jr., intentionally drove a Dodge Challenger into a crowd of people demonstrating against discrimination. Nineteen were injured while one local woman, 32-year old Heather Heyer, died in the attack.
“This is the time to stand up and speak out,” said Lexington mayor Jim Gray in a Monday interview.
Gray had been working on an effort to push down the profile of Confederate war monuments before, but said he was accelerating the plan in the wake of events in Charlottesville.
Reuters reports that ‘the drive by civil rights groups and others to do away with Confederate monuments gained momentum after an avowed white supremacist murdered nine African-American at a Charleston, South Carolina, church in 2015. The deadly shooting rampage ultimately led to the removal of a Confederate flag from the statehouse in that city.’
New Orleans intermittently made headlines in 2016 and early 2017 when its mayor, Mitch Landrieu, announced the clean-up and removal of Southern war monuments across the city.
Landrieu said the statues and busts would be put into long-term storage, speculating they might someday be given to museums or civil rights collections.
In 2017 alone, 60 Confederate memorials were taken down in cities across the country.
The removals, while posited as a progressive development, have attracted criticism from Southern heritage organizations and historical commissions as well as racist groups.
In Lexington, Gray said he didn’t expect his plans to be followed through without any resistance.
“We expected criticism,” he said. “It’s a challenging and polarizing time – and issue.”