What is happening with the Confederation statues in the USA?

In mid-December the controversy over the monuments of the Confederation leaders returned to the media after Memphis city, Tennessee, decided to sell two parks in order to remove two controversial statues of the Confederacy legally. This decision was made after the state of Tennessee, in early December, prohibited it from removing the statues. Thus, the city decided unanimously to sell the parks in which they were located.

Once the city council voted, the parks were sold for a thousand dollars each to the Greenspace organization. This organization agreed to keep them open to the public, as well as to remove the statues of President Jefferson Davis and Nathan Bedford. With this, the city responses to the claims of those who demanded their removal. The monuments were moved to a location that has not been revealed.

It should be remembered that Jefferson Davis was president of the Confederation during the American Civil War, and Bedford Forrest was a secessionist general, slave trader and leader of the Ku Klux Klan. 

The controversy over the sale of these parks is wide. Many groups, such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans, claim that this decision is illegal and that these monuments do not represent white supremacy. Therefore, removing them is a mistake. However, the mayor of the city assured that this process was developed within the limits of the law. The debate is broad and continuous in many southern cities without a clear answer.

What was the Confederation?

The Confederation was a country created in 1861 that gathered 11 southern states that separated of the United States to defend an economic model that depended on agriculture and slavery and sought to separate the country. This decision twas the cause to War of Secession or Civil War in 1861, war that lasted 4 years and ended in 1865 when Robert E. Lee and other generals delivered their weapons.

Shortly after the Civil War, monuments such as statues and cemeteries began to appear in the southern United States in honor of the Confederate leaders. These statues were built as an honor for those who fought for the south. However, at the beginning of the 20th century, the construction of monuments increased after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the state laws of racial segregation in public facilities. Southern whites sought to remember the cause of the South and racial conflicts as a way of resisting racial equality. Around 1500 symbols of the Confederation were raised throughout the country.

Why are these monuments being removed nowadays?

The debate began around 2012, when in Charlottesville some legislators sought to tear down Lee's monument. However, it was in June 2015, days after the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, when the controversy over the symbols of the Confederates broke out in the US. That day, a white supremacist, Dylann Roof, murdered nine African-American parishioners in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The photos of the man posing with Confederation’s flags impacted the opinion of the Americans on the emblems. Due to these facts, the Confederation’s flags that were outside the state capitol were removed and placed in a museum as a historical object.

Why to remove the monuments and what do the detractors think?

In recent years, this topic has been widely discussed in the southern states of US without a consensus regarding the best way to interpret the existence of monuments and the actions to be followed. The controversy has historical, political, social, and racial components that have generated great disagreements, protests, and waves of violence with fatal results.

The symbols defenders of the Confederation assure that the statues do not exist to defend or remember slavery, but to commemorate the history and culture of the state. In addition, others claim that removing a monument, renaming a school, or removing a flag is erasing history and violating freedom of expression. Some historians say that removing them would be clearing the story, erase episodes that are uncomfortable.

Even President Donald Trump has assured that if it is argued that these monuments are about racism, some activists will come to ask that the monuments of Thomas Jefferson or George Washington be removed as well because they also had slaves.

On the other side, those seeking to withdraw these monuments argue that they make an apology to slavery and racism. They claim that they promote the supremacy of the white race, celebrate slavery, and foster racial divisions. Many African-Americans have assured that they feel that the presence in public space of these statues is offensive.

On the other hand, some leaders like the mayor of New Orleans assure that the history is not being erased "We have not erased the history, we are correcting the bad image that these monuments represent and creating a better future for all our children".

However, the differences are wide. In North Carolina, laws prevent local governments from removing monuments without a passing majority. A survey revealed that 62% of Americans believe they should remain as historical symbols and 44% of them were African-American.

What is happening now?

Memphis is not the only city that is looking to remove the statues of the Confederates. In fact, several cities in the US have removed statues of leaders in recent months, which has increased the debate on whether or not they should be removed.

The differences came back to public light in August of this year, when dozens of neo-Nazis and white supremacists protested in Charlottesville, Virginia against the city's plans to remove the monument to Confederate leader Robert E. Lee and generated violent clashes. The situation ended after a run over that killed a woman and ended with 20 people wounded.

A week later, four Confederate’s monuments were removed from the city of Baltimore. At the time, the mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, Catherine Pugh said that "it is done, they had to fall in. What worried me was the safety of our people, and that is why we have acted as quickly as possible."

Meanwhile, in Furham, North Carolina, a group of protesters collapsed and kicked a Confederate statue during another protest against all remaining Confederation monuments in North Carolina. In New Orleans, at least 60 public symbols have been removed since 2015.

Some cities in Florida, Tennessee and Kentucky also faced the same debates and demonstrate against monuments. Other cities such as Memphis are looking for strategies to remove statues and monuments and place them in new spaces. At the same time, in all political and social spheres the differences continue without a consensus that allows a clear and unified action and that faces the violence that the subject generates.

LatinAmerican Post | Dayana Martínez

Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza