Monuments to racism come tumbling down

lee-monument- (Ned Oliver - Virginia Mercury)
The Robert E. Lee statue in Richmond, Va. (Ned Oliver / Virginia Mercury)

By HUGH STEPHENSON

Activists for years have demanded the removal of Confederate monuments from public spaces, only to see their demands fall on deaf ears of Democratic and Republican politicians or get tangled in government red tape. Sometimes this was done to pamper racists that use these symbols to further their cause.

It’s important to understand, statues and memorials to Confederates have nothing to do with preserving history, as those who defend their existence would have us believe. They pay homage to the oppression of African Americans.

The majority of Confederate monuments were erected in the late 1890s through the 1920s in a concerted effort by organizations such as the United Daughters of the Confederacy to reduce Black Americans to a status little better than slavery. This is the point in American history when Jim Crow became the unofficial law of the land. Additional statues were erected in the 1950s, during the Civil Rights movement, to intimidate African Americans and keep them from joining the fight against Jim Crow.

With the Minneapolis cops’ murder of George Floyd, demonstrations exploded from the Southeast to the Northwest of the United States; from the Americas to Africa, Europe, and Asia; from small towns to large cities. People are calling for an end to police oppression and murder of African Americans. At the same time, across the South, from Baltimore to Birmingham, people are combining the demand for justice with that of ridding the landscape of Confederate monuments. In many cases, demonstrators have taken it upon themselves to complete the task and have torn down or destroyed statues.

In an effort to quell protesters’ anger and demands, Southern governors and mayors, many of whom opposed removing these statues to racism, are now ordering their banishment. Virginia’s Governor Northam recently announced the removal of Richmond’s iconic Robert E. Lee statue. Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy, and a series of dead Confederates line what became known as Monument Row. Northam ordered removal of all Confederate monuments despite their being tourist attractions for the city. On June 9, a Richmond judge issued a 10-day injunction against removing the Lee statue. Some activists suggest leaving the Lee monument standing, covered, as it is now, in Black Lives Matter and George Floyd graffiti, as a fitting tribute to racist America.

City workers in Louisville, Ky., removed Confederate officer John B. Castleman’s statue from a prominent city space, Cherokee Triangle. Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin ordered the removal of a Confederate statue from city grounds, knowing the city would face a $25,000 fine. The Alabama state government has filed a lawsuit against the mayor and city.

It’s likely the Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., is also going to be removed. This is the same statue that was the focus of the infamous Unite the Right Rally of 2017, which saw the murder of Heather Heyer, an anti-racist activist, by the neo-Nazi James Alex Fields. Activists have unsuccessfully tried to have this statue removed for over a decade.

The attack on racist statues isn’t limited to the U.S. South. Protesters in England are going after icons to their country’s racist past. In Bristol, protesters toppled a statue of slave trader Edward Colston and tossed it into the city’s harbor. In London, activists at a Black Lives Matter rally surrounded a Winston Churchill monument and jeered and graffitied it with “Churchill was a racist.” Churchill was a notorious racist against Indians, Irish, Africans, Indigenous Australians, and others that were not of his skin color and class.

It’s taken years of struggle to remove some of the racist tributes to the Confederacy. Now, with the masses in the streets demanding justice for George Floyd, statues are being toppled in a matter of days and even hours. Such is the power of working people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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