Justice Comes for Some Confederate Monuments

Photo taken in front of confederate monument in Birmingham’s Linn Park just before workers dismantled it. Photo by Miranda Fulmore

Protests of the homicide of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis have had a collateral effect on confederate monumentation. This article, for example, tells us, “Protesters have targeted Confederate monuments in multiple states during the demonstrations against the death of George Floyd. Monuments in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Mississippi were defaced with spray paint as protests heated up Saturday into Sunday across the country. At least two of the five statues along Richmond, Va.’s Monument Avenue, representing Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart,  were covered in graffiti. The monument dedicated to Confederate President Jefferson Davis was covered with the sentence ‘cops ran us over’ on its base and had a noose over its shoulder.” We also read, “In Mississippi, a Confederate monument on the University of Mississippi’s campus that was once central to the anti-integration movement was accompanied by the words ‘spiritual genocide’ in black spray paint with red handprints.” In another incident, “The base of a Confederate statue near the Battery in Charleson, S.C., was scrawled with the words ‘BLM’ and ‘traitors,’ among other spray paint, before the monument was covered by a tarp.” Additionally, “Chattanooga, Tenn.’s statue of Confederate Lt. Gen. Alexander P Stewart was also covered in spray paint.”

Significantly, someone set the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Richmond afire. This article lets us know, “On Monument Avenue, home to the city’s largest Confederate memorials, protesters blanketed the massive statues with graffiti. At a memorial for Jeff Davis, the president of the Confederacy, a noose was left hanging around the bronze figure’s neck. Down the street, a fire burned inside the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group that helped erect Confederate memorials around the South and promoted the ‘Lost Cause’ interpretation of the Civil War that ’emphasized states’ rights and secession over slavery as causes of the war and was often used to further the goals of white supremacists in the twentieth century,’ according to Encyclopedia Virginia. Bystanders reported that incendiary devices of some kind were thrown through the front windows, and flames were visible to onlookers from the street and along the north side of the building.” While this was a surprise to some, it was not surprising to others:

According to the UDC itself, “Erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, this Memorial Building and Great Hall was affectionately dedicated November 11, 1957, in Richmond, Virginia, to the Women of the South and to the women of the Confederate States of America for their loyal devotion, self-sacrifice, adaptability to new tasks, constancy of purpose, exemplary faith in never changing principles. In these qualities reposes the memory of the women of the Confederacy.” So the building itself is a sort of monument to confederate women, who supported the effort to preserve and protect slavery and white supremacy.

In this op-ed piece, Professor Karen Cox of UNC-Charlotte, who is perhaps the leading authority on confederate monuments, writes, “attacks on Confederate monuments in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis may seem incongruous to those who believe that these protests are only about what happened there. Yet the uprisings in American cities since Floyd’s death, and the vandalizing and tearing-down of statues dedicated to men who fought for the perpetuation of human slavery share a common foe: white supremacy.” She tells us, “From Richmond, Virginia, where the large equestrian statue of Robert E. Lee was marked with the words ‘No more white supremacy’ and ‘Blood on your hands,’ to Oxford, Mississippi, where the statue of the common soldier that sits at the entrance to the University of Mississippi was tagged with the words ‘spiritual genocide,’ citizens are railing against systemic racism and accurately tying it to the legacy of white supremacy that these monuments represent.” Professor Cox then gives us a history of opposition to these monuments. “A crucial thing to know here is that these attacks on Confederate monuments are not a new phenomenon. They have long been the target of individuals who have felt the inequality of American justice. When the Lee monument was unveiled in 1890, John Mitchell, editor of the local black newspaper The Richmond Planet, saw in the monument a symbol meant to deter racial progress and noted that it ‘(forged) heavier chains with which to be bound.’ A few decades later, in the 1930s, black southerners registered their contempt for Confederate monuments in the pages of the nation’s leading black newspaper, The Chicago Defender. As one reader put it, ‘If those monuments weren’t standing, the white South wouldn’t be so encouraged to practice hate and discrimination against our people.’ But it was the 1966 killing of 20-year-old Sammy Younge, Jr. in Tuskegee, Alabama, that feels so strikingly similar to George Floyd’s death and the current attack on Confederate monuments in 2020. In early January of that year, Younge, a student at Tuskegee Institute and active member of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), stopped by a gas station where he was told by Marvin Segrest, the 68-year-old white attendant, to use the ‘colored’ restroom in the back. An argument between the two men ensued in which Younge asked Segrest ‘haven’t you heard of the Civil Rights Act?’–a reference to the 1964 legislation prohibiting the segregation of public accommodations. As the exchange escalated, Segrest got a gun and shot Younge, killing him. Segrest admitted to the killing and was charged with second-degree murder, but in December of that same year he was acquitted. It was an outcome that Tuskegee students expected from an Alabama court, but it nevertheless cut deeply, and they returned that evening to meet on campus to decide next steps. As SNCC leader James Forman described in his book about Younge, around midnight, one student announced he was going to go to town to camp alongside the Confederate monument located in the center of the town. One after another offered to join him, until a crowd of several hundred began their walk to town. But when they got there, they recognized in the monument the symbolism of the injustice that it represented. A SNCC member called out for someone to bring paint and within minutes cans of black paint were made available. Students doused the monument with it, added Sammy Younge’s name, and in large capital letters the slogan ‘BLACK POWER’ across the pedestal. They also set brush fires around the base.” In concluding her op-ed piece, Professor Cox writes, “Confederate monuments are intensely local objects. They were placed there by locals and the local community will decide whether to move them. And they should move them, because they haunt the South’s town squares, college campuses, and the grounds of courthouses and statehouses–which are supposed to be democratic public spaces. As long as the monuments to the Confederacy remain in these shared spaces, there will be no peace. When southern towns, cities and college campuses revisit the issue of Confederate monuments on the grounds of what are supposed to be democratic public spaces—and they most assuredly will—then they must reckon with the legacy of racism and white supremacy that these statues represent. The protests of what Frederick Douglass called ‘monuments of folly‘ are unlikely to cease, and history provides us with plenty of reasons why they are a source of insult and pain for black Americans, especially black Southerners. What they, and others, see in George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, reminds them of the systemic racism in their own communities–where Confederate monuments, some placed there more than a century ago, continue to ‘speak’ of white supremacy and injustice.”

This article tells us about the removal and toppling of confederate monuments in Birmingham, Alabama. It says, “Piece by piece, authorities overnight began pulling down a five-story-tall monument to Confederate troops that has stood for more than a century in Birmingham, Ala. By the time the workers paused Tuesday morning, little was left of a spire that had become a lightning rod for controversy in recent years and a focal point for local protesters outraged by George Floyd‘s death last week in Minneapolis. On Sunday, the obelisk — known formally as the Confederate Sailors and Soldiers Monument — was the site of a speech from Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, who pleaded with the crowd. Some protesters had already vandalized the monument and toppled another statue in the park, that one of former Confederate officer Charles Linn.”

From the article. A statue of Charles Linn, a onetime Confederate officer and a founder of Birmingham, sits toppled Monday. The statue fell after unrest in Birmingham following George Floyd’s death. Jay Reeves/AP

The article continues, “Woodfin asked that demonstrators refrain from trying to tear down the much larger monument — so that his government could do it instead. ‘Allow me to finish the job for you,’ the mayor told a crowd behind his mask and a megaphone. And he persuaded them to give him until midday Tuesday to pull the monument down.” It also tells us, “This week’s move likely isn’t the final chapter in the Birmingham monument’s story, which was knotty well before the latest spasm of unrest trained attention back on it. Woodfin’s predecessor, William Bell, ordered the memorial partly hidden with plywood screens in 2017 following the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Va. But Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall sued the city, citing a violation of a state law, the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, which protects against the relocation or alteration of Confederate symbols that have been up for more than four decades. A unanimous state Supreme Court decision last fall sided with the monument’s supporters, bringing the plywood down and assessing a fine of $25,000 against the city of Birmingham. Now Marshall has threatened another lawsuit over the city’s move. ‘Should the City of Birmingham proceed with the removal of the monument in question, based upon multiple conversations I have had today,’ the attorney general said in a statement issued Monday, ‘city leaders understand I will perform the duties assigned to me by the [Alabama Memorial Preservation] Act to pursue a new civil complaint against the City.’ ”

In discussing the removal of the Birmingham monument, this article tells us, “it couldn’t survive for even a full day after a large-scale rally saw another racially divisive monument destroyed by protesters and a statue of Thomas Jefferson burned just feet away on Sunday. The demonstration, which started out peacefully but ultimately devolved into violence and extensive property damage in downtown Birmingham, represented a cry for justice by a people fed up with the seemingly endless series of deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of U.S. law enforcement officers. The death of George Floyd, who was killed on video last month by a police officer in Minneapolis, shocked the nation and drove many thousands of Americans into streets from Alabama to Alaska. Floyd’s death was the direct impetus for the Sunday protests in Birmingham that ultimately led to the dramatic removal of the monument in Linn Park a day later. But it is just the latest in a series of injustices that black people in Alabama and beyond are no longer willing to put up with, according to Mia Speights, a black Birmingham resident who came out to the park on Monday to show her support for the cause. ‘I’ve been saying there was going to be a breaking point with police brutality,’ she said. ‘It started with Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner, but George Floyd is the breaking point.’ ” The article concludes, “Easily the most visible legacy of the young mayor’s tenure to date is his decision to defy the state and bring a construction crew in to dismantle the monument and take it down piece by piece with a crane bearing a massive hook, the long chunks carted away on the back of a flatbed truck. On Jefferson Davis Day, no less. As a black mayor running a major city in which over 70 percent of residents are African-American, Woodfin probably didn’t hurt his local political future much by presiding over this historic moment. And it will probably only raise his national political profile and stoke new suggestions that he run for state or national office. But this was a moment that took place outside the horse race of electoral politics. Birmingham, the crucible of America’s long racial divide and the site of some of the most brutal examples of its enforcement, is now without its largest confederate memorial for the first time in over a century. As Andre McKoy, a black Birmingham resident who went to Linn Park Monday afternoon to show his support for the protest movement, put it: ‘Birmingham is 71% black but we’ve got a Confederate monument right downtown. It’s not right. If this town was 71% Jewish, we wouldn’t have a statue of Adolf Hitler.’ ”

According to this article, “A Go Fund Me page was created to help the city pay any fines. By 10 p.m. Monday the account had raised nearly $45,000 of a goal of $50,000. ‘Once collected the $50,000 raised here will be sent to Birmingham City for the fine that will be incurred with the statues removal from Linn Park. Anything beyond that $50,000 that is raised will go to Faith in Action Alabama in their multi-faith and multi-racial work to end systemic racism in Alabama.’ The statue was dedicated in 1905 after years of fundraising efforts led by prominent Birmingham citizens gathered $4,000. At the dedication, there was a parade of 1,000, including Birmingham students, police and firefighters. ‘The manner of their death, was the crowning glory of their lives,’ a quote from Confederate President Jefferson Davis reads on one of the obelisk’s inscriptions. The Alabama Supreme Court in 2019 ruled that the city of Birmingham violated Alabama’s monument protection law when it placed a plywood screen around the monument in Linn Park in August 2017. The court said the city would have to pay a $25,000 fine. The plywood was placed there on orders of former Birmingham Mayor William Bell after the state passed the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act in 2017 in response to removals and calls for removal of Confederate monuments on public property. Marshall filed a lawsuit against Birmingham for block the view of the monument.” The article also says, “Late Monday afternoon, The Birmingham Foot Soldiers, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Birmingham Urban League and the National Action Network addressed the unrest and again called for the monument to be removed. Those who spoke at the press conference included William Barnes, Urban League’s CEO, Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson, Isaiah Armstrong of the Foot Soldiers and longtime civil rights activist Bishop Calvin Woods of the SCLC. ‘The people of this city demand this monument be removed,’ Barnes said, ‘so we’re going on record, the civil rights community, and we’re asking all leaders…to have this monument removed immediately.’ ‘It is nothing more than scratching the sore of what we’ve seen in this community for multiple years,’ he said. ‘And with the recent deaths of many across the nation, we say enough is enough. We are done dying and we’re done being reminded of the atrocities against African Americans.’ ”

R. E. Lee statue stood up outside Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery after it had been toppled. WSFA12 News photo.

This article tells us the statue of Robert E. Lee outside the high school named for him in Montgomery, Alabama, was toppled and then hauled away. The article says, “As protests of George Floyd’s murder were underway in downtown Montgomery, the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was toppled from its pedestal in front of its namesake high school a few miles away. Cheers went up among a small crowd gathered to watch the fallen general as cars circled the area and honked. As the statue was driven away, the crowd sang a brief, ‘Hey, he-ey, goodbye.’ The statue was overturned on a state holiday commemorating Jefferson Davis’ birthday. It is one of three Alabama holidays celebrating the Confederacy, a government that rested on the principle of white supremacy.” Suspects are in custody with charges pending, and the statue has been placed in storage.

Even the SCV and the UDC recognize justice coming to their monuments.

According to this article, “Arkansas Division United Daughters of the Confederacy announced Monday afternoon the Confederate monument located in the middle of the Bentonville Square will be relocated. The statue of the Confederate soldier has been in the Bentonville Square since 1908 and has been the center of much controversy over the years. It will be moved to the James H. Berry Park in Bentonville. This is according to the Daughters of the Confederacy, who own the statue. The statue will be moved to a private park this summer.”

This article tells us, “The Sons of Confederate Veterans were authorized to legally remove the bust of Confederate Army commander Robert E. Lee from downtown Fort Myers, according to the Fort Myers Police Department. The bust, which has been tampered with in the past, was removed from its location on Monroe Street Monday afternoon. Police said the bust was removed in anticipation of protests downtown.”

And according to this article, the UDC has removed the confederate monument in Alexandria, Virginia. It says, “The United Daughters of the Confederacy have removed a Confederate monument a month early from an intersection in Alexandria, Va., Mayor Justin Wilson (D) said Tuesday. Wilson said the group made the decision to remove the statue, ‘Appomattox,’ ahead of schedule in light of several cases of segregation-era Confederate monuments being defaced in protests around the country, The Washington Post reported.”

This article tells us, “Alexandria’s landmark statue of a Confederate soldier was removed from Old Town Tuesday morning. Its owner, the United Daughters of the Confederacy, informed the city of Alexandria’s government that the statue would be removed on Monday, city spokesperson Craig Fifer tells Washingtonian. ‘While we provided traffic control,’ Fifer says, ‘the City is not involved in or aware of the destination.’ Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson announced the removal on Twitter Tuesday. The statue’s pillar will be removed later, Wilson says, and there’s no decision yet on how the city will use the intersection. The Caspar Buberl statue, called Appomattox, has stood at the intersection of South Washington and Prince Streets since 1889, a location chosen because it was where many Confederate soldiers gathered to leave for war. The city, which stopped flying Confederate flags five years ago, has since hoped to get rid of the monument to its Confederate past, a task complicated by a Virginia law that protected it. Governor Ralph Northam signed a law this April that allows cities to remove Confederate monuments. It will go into effect July 1. Alexandria renamed its portion of Route 1, formerly called Jefferson Davis Highway, last year.”

It also seems there will be more removals in the future.

This article tells us, “[University of Mississippi] Chancellor Glenn Boyce said he was committed to seeing that the Confederate monument that sits on campus is removed from the Circle, according to an email sent to the university community. ‘This is a time for change. For me, that means moving the monument away from the center of our campus,’ he said. ‘That monument has divided this campus, and the process of its removal from the Circle is one I am committed to seeing through to completion. There is more to do, but this needs to happen.’ On Saturday, the Confederate monument was vandalized, with black spraypaint covering all four sides saying ‘spiritual genocide.’ University police arrested Zach Borenstein in connection with the incident, and members of the community have begun raising money for his bail.”

Finally, we have this article out of North Carolina. According to the article, “The Rocky Mount City Council voted on Tuesday to remove a Confederate monument from Battle Park. Andre Knight, the Mayor Pro-tem, confirmed to ABC11 that council voted 6-1 to remove it. It happened during a meeting for the upcoming budget. Councilman Reuben Blackwell made the motion and it was seconded by Councilman Richard Joyner, Knight said. Mayor Sandy Roberson said the city council will confirm the vote in a meeting next week. Still, North Carolina law prohibits the removal of confederate monuments unless approved by a state entity. Over the weekend, demonstrators who were part of the George Floyd protests marched to Battle Park and started their event at the monument.”

More people are understanding each day that these monuments have no place on government grounds.

One comment

  1. Nancy Abbott · · Reply

    That’s awesome because now thy will have to take them down!

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPhone

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