At least 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy can be found in public spaces across the country, mostly in the Deep South, according to a report released today by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Most were put in place during the early decades of Jim Crow or in reaction to the civil rights movement.
The report – Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy – catalogs 1,503 examples of monuments and statues; flags; city, county and school names; lakes, dams and other public works; state holidays; and other symbols that honor the Confederacy.
The vast majority are in the 11 states that formed the Confederacy, but some are also found as far away as California and Massachusetts.
“Public governmental displays of Confederate monuments and other symbols undermine the promise of equality that’s the basis of our democracy,” said SPLC President Richard Cohen. “The argument that these tributes represent Southern ‘heritage’ ignores the heritage of African Americans whose ancestors were enslaved by the millions and later subjected to decades of oppression.”
The study identified:
- 718 monuments and statues, nearly 300 of which are in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina;
- 109 public schools named for Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis or other Confederate icons;
- 80 counties and cities named for Confederates;
- 9 official Confederate holidays in six states;
- 10 U.S. military bases named for Confederates.
The report includes a state-by-state list of government-sanctioned Confederate symbols. But it did not include nearly 2,600 Civil War battlefields, museums, cemeteries and other places or symbols that are largely historical in nature. While the researchers attempted to list all Confederate displays, it’s likely that some were not identified in the study.
The report notes that the creation of Confederate displays spiked at the beginning of the Jim Crow era and again in response to the civil rights movement. Alabama’s segregationist Gov. George Wallace, for example, famously raised the Confederate battle flag above the state Capitol dome before a 1963 meeting in Montgomery with U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to discuss civil rights issues.
“In many cases, preserving history was not the true goal of these displays,” Cohen said. “Rather, many of them were part of an effort to glorify a cause that was manifestly unjust – a cause that has been whitewashed by revisionist propaganda that began almost as soon as the Civil War ended. Other displays were intended as acts of defiance by white supremacists opposed to equality for African Americans during the civil rights movement.”
The SPLC began investigating such displays after white supremacist Dylann Roof massacred nine African Americans at the historic Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston on June 17, 2015. Shortly after the attack, photos emerged of Roof with the Confederate battle flag. The images helped mobilize a movement that led to the battle flag being removed from the capitol grounds in both South Carolina and Alabama. Communities across the country also began re-evaluating Confederate displays and, in many cases, removing them.
The SPLC report includes an action guide to help community members organize campaigns to remove these symbols from public spaces and place them in museums or similar venues where a full account of the history can be provided.