by Joe Killian, NC Newsline
North Carolina was among the states that removed the most Confederate monuments and symbols last year, according to new data from the Southern Poverty Law Center. But just seven such symbols were removed, according to the SPLC; 173 remain across the state.
This week, as the North Carolina Commission on Racial and Ethnic Disparities held a symposium on the importance of removing monuments to the Confederacy, the SPLC urged states to do better. Susan Corke, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project. (Photo: SPLC)
“Despite progress in removing Confederate iconography from the American landscape, a critical part of telling the hard history of slavery and racism in this country, Southern states continue to block the removal of Confederate symbols,” said Susan Corke, director of the SPLC’s Intelligence Project, in a statement on the group’s new data.
The group has been documenting the removal of Confederate symbols since 2015’s mass shooting at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, where Dylann Roof killed 9 people. The shooting energized a renewed movement to remove symbols of the Confederacy from public places, rename buildings and events honoring the Confederacy and enslavers, and illuminate the true history of these symbols.
A total of 482 Confederate symbols have been removed, renamed or relocated from public places since 2015 — 48 of them in 2022. For the third straight year, Virginia removed the most — 13. Louisiana and North Carolina followed, removing seven each. New York and Texas each removed five.
In 2017, protesters toppled a Confederate monument in front of the old Durham County Courthouse after their efforts to have the statue legally removed were stymied by the GOP-dominated legislature passing a law to protect such statues.
A year later, protesters pulled down the “Silent Sam” Confederate monument on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.
Shortly thereafter, the State Historical Commission decided not to remove the three Confederate monuments on the State Capitol grounds. The commissioners said at the time that they felt constrained by a 2015 monuments law to keep the statues in place.
In 2018, students and activists at UNC-Chapel Hill toppled the longstanding Confederate monument, known as “Silent Sam,” on campus, setting off a years-long political saga over how to handle the remnants of the monument.
In 2019, the City of Winston Salem succeeded in legally removing a Confederate monument from the site of a former courthouse downtown after years of legal struggles.
The nationwide movement to remove Confederate statues picked up momentum after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, the former police officer convicted for the the crime. The Monument to North Carolina Women of the Confederacy was also removed, on orders.by Gov. Cooper in 2020. A strong message left by protesters remained. (Photo by Clayton Henkel)
In June of 2020, protesters tore down two bronze soldier statues from the 75-foot North Carolina Confederate monument at the State Capitol in downtown Raleigh, hanging one by its neck from a street light.
Gov. Roy Cooper ordered the remainder of the monument dismantled and removed for public safety, along with the Henry Lewis Wyatt and North Carolina Women of the Confederacy monuments, the two other Confederate statues on State Capitol property.
In November 2020, residents of Gaston County sued in state court to remove the towering “Confederate Heroes” monument in front of the county courthouse in Gastonia. The next year, residents of Iredell County followed with a similar suit.
The Iredell County monument, like so many across the South, was financed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and erected in 1906. As NC Newsline has reported, the group helped pay for and erect such statues not in the direct aftermath of the Civil War but decades later in a wave of white supremacist sentiment that included a series of laws targeting and disenfranchising Black citizens.
More than 2,600 Confederate symbols are still standing across the U.S., according to the SPLC’s regularly updated “Whose Heritage?” map. There are 47 pending removal in North Carolina and ten other states – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, New York, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia – and in Puerto Rico.
Laws protecting the monuments and symbols – including in North Carolina – continue to slow efforts to legally remove them.
“This is not what democracy looks like,” Corke said. “It is worth noting that these regressive preservation laws were enacted between 2000 and 2021 — more than 135 years after the Civil War was lost — to keep false heroes on a pedestal. But Americans recognize these symbols represent hate instead of heritage and do not tell our entire, shared history.”
In recent years, the momentum for removing names and symbols associated with the Confederacy has gone further and higher than ever before, even being embraced by U.S. military forces resisted such changes for decades. In North Carolina, Fort Bragg – home to U.S. Special Forces operations – will become Fort Liberty as the U.S. Department of Defense works to implement the recommendations of its naming commission.
“As the military works to remove all Confederate iconography by the Naming Commission’s January 2024 deadline, the SPLC will continue to support and encourage local activists who are challenging this age-old propaganda campaign,” Corke said. “We can achieve racial justice by creating public spaces free of malice that we all can enjoy and be proud of.”
For more on the SPLC’s work on Confederate monuments, see the third edition of its Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy report and its regularly updated interactive map.
NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: email@example.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.