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Weekend Read: White supremacists rally in Virginia to defend the Confederacy

Hundreds of white supremacists are planning to descend on Charlottesville, Virginia, today to protest the city council’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a city park.

The “Unite the Right” rally is attracting leaders and members of the country’s largest neo-Nazi group, along with those of many other hate groups, such as the League of the South. It comes after a Klan demonstration in July over the same statue and a rally in May by white nationalists (including Richard Spencer, who popularized the term “alt-right”).

This time, protesters are ostensibly gathering to defend “free speech and our heritage.” But, as we’ve written before, just whose heritage they will be acknowledging is painfully clear. Certainly it will not be the heritage of the nearly 400,000 Africans kidnapped into slavery and brought to North America prior to the Civil War or the millions of African-Americans oppressed during slavery and the seven decades of Jim Crow segregation that followed Reconstruction, when most Confederate monuments were erected.

In Alabama, another town has been wrestling with the past. A 2016 car crash toppled a Confederate soldier that stood in the town square in Demopolis. That meant residents were faced not with the question of whether to take the Confederate monument down – but whether to put it back up.

“An accident occurs and you start to hear all this stuff about somebody wanted to destroy their ‘history,’” Reginald Gracie told David Montgomery for The Washington Post. “All these years you say this should be a model city as far as race relations are concerned, but you want to erect the one thing that keeps us divided?”

Other black residents were just as stunned that their white neighbors would want to erect a monument to such a painful era.

“I realized what it represented to them, and then I realized what it represented to me,” Annye Braxton told Montgomery. “Bigotry. If we are the City of the People, it represents an exclusion of my people. And if we are the City of the People, I think we should be included in the monument.”

The Demopolis city council voted in April to replace the toppled statue with an inclusive monument to the fallen soldiers of all wars. But then state lawmakers got involved. Thanks to a bill signed by Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey, any public monument older than 39 years may not be altered, undermining the council’s decision.

Meanwhile, in Charlottesville, the city council’s decision to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee has been enjoined by a court order, with efforts stalling in the nearby cities of Alexandria and Leesburg as well. The effort to remove (or replace) Confederate monuments in all these cities is about more than symbolism. It’s about acknowledging the full history of our nation — and committing to address the injustices that continue today.

As always, thank you for your support,

The Editors

PS. Here are a few more reads worth your time.

SPLC’s Weekend Readings are a weekly summary of the most important news reporting and commentary from around the country on civil rights, economic and racial inequality, and hate and extremism. Sign up to receive Weekend Readings every Saturday morning.