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For all the handwringing over the “senseless” property destruction that has accompanied the past week of protest, a number of the damaged sites have a perfectly sensible connection to the protesters’ chief grievance: anti-Black racism. Throughout the South, protesters have burned buildings and toppled statues that have stood for years as overt reminders of the country’s history of chattel slavery, racial apartheid, and the war fought to uphold it.
Most of these Confederate monuments were built not immediately after the Civil War but in the Jim Crow South of the early 20th century, as a part of white Southerners’ cult of the “Lost Cause.” In this relitigation of history, Confederate soldiers were not landed gentry fighting to maintain their right to own other human beings (which they were). Instead they were posited as noble rebels, fighting outmatched against a tyrannical government for a right to “maintain their way of life.” The plaques and obelisks and statues that dotted cities around the South in memory of this myth were designed as points of nostalgic pride for white Southerners and ominous reminders of systemic racial terror for Black Southerners.
We’ve debated for years about whether these symbols of the Rebel South should continue to exist, but now, perhaps emboldened by the historic moment, people around the country have taken matters into their own hands. Here’s a running list of what’s been hit so far.
The Daughters of the Confederacy building (Richmond, Virginia)
The United Daughters of the Confederacy was founded in 1894, dedicated to “the purpose of honoring the memory of its Confederate ancestors” and “protecting, preserving and marking the places made historic by Confederate valor.” In practice, this has meant serving as the standard-bearers of Lost Cause ideology, constructing and defending over 450 Confederate monuments across the South. The Richmond headquarters of the organization was set on fire during protests early Sunday. It was later put out by firefighters.
It appears, however, that some Stonewall Jackson memorabilia inside the building was destroyed before firefighters could get to it. How sad.
Statues along Monument Avenue (Richmond, Virginia)
Richmond’s Monument Avenue, built explicitly to honor Confederate soldiers at the turn of the 20th century, has frequently been a flashpoint in the nationwide debate about the removal of Confederate symbols. Over the weekend, the statues of Confederate idols Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis, and others were tagged with such phrases as “No More White Supremacy” and “Blood on Your Hands.” In demonstrations Monday, protesters attempted to pull some statues down, according to police. They were met with tear gas.
Appomattox Confederate Statue (Alexandria, Virginia)
The government of Alexandria had been planning to move this statue of a southern-facing Confederate soldier for some time now. But apparently the good ol’ gals of the Daughters of the Confederacy who own the statue decided to speed things along and preemptively had it removed on Tuesday.
Confederate Defenders Monument (Charleston, South Carolina)
Built in 1932, this statue was paid for by—you guessed it—the Daughters of the Confederacy, to honor “the Confederate Defenders of Charleston.” Engraved around the base are the words “Count Them Happy Who for Their Faith and Their Courage Endured a Great Fight.” On Sunday protesters crossed out the word “courage” with spray paint and replaced it with “traitors.” The statue has since been covered up.
I-630 Highway (Little Rock, Arkansas)
Protesters blocked traffic on I-630 in Little Rock on Saturday. The construction of the highway in 1960s and 1970s cut through a Black community and business district and created a barrier that further segregated the city, just like many, many, many other highways constructed in post-war America.
Confederate statue at Ole Miss (Oxford, Mississippi)
In 1906, Nellie Durham Deupree and her band of Lost Cause ladies commissioned this monument for all the usual Lost Cause reasons. It’s long been decried as a racist symbol by some Ole Miss students, and in March 2019 the student government voted unanimously to have it removed. But in January of this year, the university’s governing board delayed a vote on whether to move it. Over the weekend a man tagged the statue with the words “spiritual genocide.” He was later arrested.
Statue of Frank Rizzo (Philadelphia)
Philadelphia officials on Wednesday removed the statue of former Mayor Frank Rizzo that had previously stood in front of the city municipal building. The statue had been a target of protesters in recent years, and with good reason. Rizzo was an avatar of white reaction, first as a “tough on crime” police commissioner from 1968–71 and then as mayor from 1972–80. As commissioner his policies resulted in a pattern of racist police brutality against Black residents, and as mayor he fought desegregation efforts, blocked public housing, and urged people to “vote white.” In a statement ahead of the removal, which had originally been planned for 2021, current Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kennedy said: “The statue is a deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others. The treatment of these communities under Mr. Rizzo’s leadership was among the worst periods in Philadelphia’s history.”
Market House building (Fayetteville, North Carolina)
Today Fayetteville’s Market House is mainly a historical landmark and tourist attraction, but as its name suggests, it was previously a commercial center and site where slave auctions were held. It was burned in protests Saturday, but by Sunday people had come to clean it up.
State Capitol Confederate monument (Raleigh, North Carolina)
Raleigh, North Carolina, a capital city in the United States of America, has sitting in front of its state government building a monument to the soldiers of the Confederate States of America, a failed slaveholding republic that resulted from an attempt of treason against the United States government. This monument was spraypainted by protesters over the weekend, presumably violating the 2015 state law that prevents such monuments from being removed, destroyed, or altered.
Statue of Charles Linn (Birmingham, Alabama)
Demonstrators took down a bronze statue of Charles Linn, erected in the center of an eponymous park in honor of a sea captain who volunteered to help the Confederacy in the Civil War. They also attempted to bring down a nearby obelisk monument to Confederate soldiers and sailors until Birmingham Mayor Jermaine Johnson deterred them, saying “allow me to finish the job for you.” Johnson promised that the statue would be removed by Tuesday at noon, and by Monday night it was gone.