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160 Confederate symbols removed from public spaces in 2020, new count shows

The Guardian - Tue Feb 23 12:51

At least 160 public Confederate symbols were taken down or moved from public spaces in 2020, according to a new count by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The law center, which keeps a raw count of nearly 2,100 statues, symbols, placards, buildings and public parks dedicated to the Confederacy, will release the latest figures from its Whose Heritage? database on Tuesday. It has been tracking a movement to take down the monuments since 2015, when a white supremacist entered a South Carolina church and killed several black parishioners.

“These racist symbols only serve to uphold revisionist history and the belief that white supremacy remains morally acceptable,” said Lecia Brooks, SPLC chief of staff. “This is why we believe that all symbols of white supremacy should be removed from public spaces.”

When rioters tore through the US Capitol last month, some holding Confederate battle flags, they didn’t encounter a statue of the most famous rebel general, Robert E Lee. The Lee statue, which represented Virginia as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection for 111 years, had been removed weeks before.

Sometime after visitors and tourists are welcomed back to the Capitol, there will be a statue saluting Virginia’s Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old black girl who staged a strike in 1951 over unequal conditions at her segregated high school in Farmville. Her actions led to court-ordered integration of public schools across the US, via a landmark supreme court decision, Brown v Board of Education.

Each state legislature can choose two representatives to honor in the Capitol. In December, a Virginia commission recommended replacing Lee with Johns. A statue of George Washington remains. Joan Johns Cobbs, Barbara Johns’ younger sister, is ecstatic about the honor.

“You can’t imagine how sad I was seeing what was happening in the Capitol building,” Cobbs said. “I was saying to myself, ‘Oh, my God. I’m kind of glad her statue wasn’t there already.’ I wondered what would have happened.”

Long seen as offensive to black Americans, Lee’s Capitol statue wasn’t the only one representing a figure from the Confederacy. Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America and a senator from Mississippi, is one of two figures representing that state in the Capitol.

The SPLC says 704 Confederate monuments are still standing across the US. Taking some down may be difficult, particularly in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, where lawmakers have enacted policies protecting them.

The movement to remove such symbols from public spaces became part of the national reckoning on racial injustice following the killing last May of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck.

“Exposing children to anything that falsely promotes the idea of white superiority and black inferiority is dehumanizing,” said Brooks.