Explainer: Confederate statues

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Over the past two years there have been many news reports of tension surrounding the presence of statues and icons that celebrate Confederate generals, soldiers, and imagery from the Civil War.

An argument exists as to their purpose; whether they venerate bygone days of slavery and those who fought to keep it, if they represent an unchangeable part of U.S. History that ought to be remembered and reflected upon. The argument has spurred rallies and protests across the Southern United States.

From the Spirit of the Confederacy statue in Houston to a statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, VA., protestor groups such as Black Lives Matter and the Sons of Confederate Veterans have attended rallies to show their support whether it be for the removal of the statues or fighting to keep them up.

After protestors in North Carolina took down a statue of a Confederate soldier in Durham on Aug. 14, cities across the U.S. have considered removing their own Confederate statues to separate themselves from the Antebellum South. However, laws in place may prevent that from happening.

In 2015, North Carolina’s state General Assembly passed a law that made it illegal to remove, vandalize, or otherwise alter “objects of remembrance” – making any attempts by city legislators to remove Confederate iconography in their cities illegal.

It’s not just North Carolina that has these laws, however. As of May 2017, Alabama passed laws against altering, renaming, or removing any monuments, streets or buildings made or named as memorials if they’re 40 years or older, which puts the majority, if not all, of the Alabama Confederate memorials under its protection.

In Virginia, a state law makes it illegal to “disturb or interfere” with any state monuments or memorials – which has led to a lawsuit against the Charlottesville City Council over a proposal to remove the Robert E. Lee statue located in the city.

If a city in any of these states (or any states with similar laws) decides that they want to remove Confederate iconography from their cities, they will be required to go above their own city ordinances and tackle the state laws that govern from above them.

The discussion around the symbols began in earnest after the Charlston Church shooting in 2015, as white nationalist Dylann Roof was associated heavily with the confederate battle flag. Since then the movement has been growing as people begin to understand how the symbols are utilized by hate groups.

The issue has quickly become politicized, though opinion polling by Rueters/Ipsos found that 54 percent of adults said Confederate monuments ‘should remain in all public spaces’ while 27 percent said they ‘should be removed from all public spaces.’ Another 19 percent said they ‘don’t know.’”

This is a battle that could be years in the making and is rapidly evolving. The chief target of those in favor of removing statues are those constructed in the post-reconstruction era, a period from 1877 to 1940. During this time, the south was dominated by all white governments who exercised the position to commemorate the fallen heroes of the confederacy.

In Huntsville, jokes have been made about the chances of Gen. Sam Houston’s statues being removed. While this is a popular joke, The Houstonian will be back next week with a piece on why the possibility is highly unlikely.