The whole point of Confederate monuments is to celebrate white supremacy

tags: racism, Charlottesville, Trump

Karen L. Cox is a professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the author, most recently, of “Goat Castle: A True Story of Murder, Race, and the Gothic South.”

The rally by white nationalists to defend the monument to Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville last weekend, and the destruction of a monument to Confederate soldiers in Durham, N.C., two days later, have stoked the ongoing debate over these statues. President Trump suggested Tuesday that the torchlight rally by neo-Nazis and other white supremacists was merely a defense of the past: “So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?” On Thursday, he picked the argument back up on Twitter: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments. You can’t change history, but you can learn from it. Robert E Lee, Stonewall Jackson — who’s next, Washington, Jefferson? So foolish! Also, the beauty that is being taken out of our cities, towns and parks will be greatly missed and never able to be comparably replaced!”

But what do we learn from the history of these monuments? Are they truly innocuous symbols of Confederate heritage, as their defenders argue? The facts tell us otherwise.

Almost none of the monuments were put up right after the Civil War. Some were erected during the civil rights era of the early 1960s, which coincided with the war’s centennial, but the vast majority of monuments date to between 1895 and World War I. They were part of a campaign to paint the Southern cause in the Civil War as just and slavery as a benevolent institution, and their installation came against a backdrop of Jim Crow violence and oppression of African Americans. The monuments were put up as explicit symbols of white supremacy....

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