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It’s Time for the Entire U.S. Military to Ban Confederate Symbols

For more than a century, the Confederate flag has stood as a symbol of white supremacy and a constant reminder of this nation’s enslavement of Black people.

Despite the history – and the flag’s long connection to hatred –  it has been a fixture on military bases across the country and around the globe, and serves not as a symbol of liberty, but of injustice.

This month, both the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy announced plans to ban the Confederate flag and iconography on bases and installations around the world amid growing demands to dismantle structures of white supremacy following the recent killings of unarmed Black people by police.

Days later, news broke that the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of the Army were open to having discussions about changing the names of the 10 army bases currently honoring Confederate generals. Subsequently, the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee adopted an amendment that would allow the Pentagon to remove the names of Confederate generals from military assets, including bases, installments, aircrafts, ships and other equipment within the next three years.

The practice of naming military assets after Confederate generals occurred long after more than 750,000 American lives were lost in the Civil War and the South surrendered. The Army chose to honor four Confederate leaders between 1917-1918, and the other six in the 1940s – all after the ratification of the 13th Amendment which officially abolished slavery in the U.S., “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted…” 

This week, SPLC’s President and Chief Executive Officer Margaret Huang sent letters to the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of the Army, the Secretary of the Navy, the Secretary of the Air Force, the Commandant of the Coast Guard and the National Guard Bureau Chief urging them to remove Confederate symbols from all of their installations in the U.S. and abroad.

For more than a century, the flag was used extensively by the Ku Klux Klan as it waged a campaign of terror against Black Americans after the Civil War and during the civil rights movement, as segregationists in positions of power raised it in defense of discriminatory Jim Crow laws, and in the continuance of a false narrative of white racial superiority.

Our public entities, especially our military assets, should no longer play a role in distorting history by honoring a secessionist government that waged war against the United States to preserve white supremacy and the enslavement of millions of people. 

SPLC’s Whose Heritage report, first released in 2016, identifies nearly 1,800 Confederate monuments, parks, schools, state holidays and other symbols of the Confederacy in public places across the South and the nation.

To date, 143 Confederate symbols have been taken down, relocated or renamed across our country, with more expected amid widespread demands for their removal.

While some states, particularly in the Deep South, have enacted so-called preservation laws to force communities to keep unrepentant symbols of oppression, many around the country are now being heard loud and clear: they do not want their public lands, schools and parks used to commemorate white supremacy and the brutal subjugation of Black communities.

History has shown us that Confederate monuments were erected to intimidate Black people, while preserving a revisionist history which romanticizes brutality and racism.

Confederate monuments and symbols have no place in the public domain. They must be removed in order for our nation to reconcile with the truth of its painful past and treatment of Black people.

Please read our Whose Heritage report for more information on public symbols of the Confederacy and the work to remove them.

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