Graffiti has a long history as a potent if controversial form of political protest. Now, in the wake of the Charleston, South Carolina church massacre, at least a few activists are turning their paint cans to monuments that honor the Confederate States of America.
In Baltimore, a city rocked by protests against police brutality in recent months, one of the city’s three Confederate monuments was painted over by Black Lives Matter protesters.
And in Charleston, where Dylann Roof is accused of killing nine people at a historic African American church last week, another statue has been defaced with the protest slogan.
And in Asheville, North Carolina, a obelisk commemorating Confederate colonel Zebulon Vance was painted with Black Lives Matter this week, but quickly cleaned up by city workers.
It’s not the first time that statutes celebrating the Confederacy have been defaced by those who don’t find it acceptable to glorify the nation’s history of slavery. At the University of Texas at Austin, in a state where the number of Confederate memorials is growing, a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis was written over with the words “Davis must fall” and “Emancipate UT.” And a few years ago in Memphis, a statue of Confederate general and early KKK member Nathan Bedford Forrest was covered in dripping red paint.
Today, at least 17 states are home to monuments or memorials for the Confederacy, and a number of state and city governments still fly flags or have public parks named after figures in the Confederacy. Since the Charleston shootings, a national movement has focused on taking down these symbols of a divisive past, especially on public land. South Carolina is considering removing the Confederate flag it flies in front of its state capitol. Governor Nikki Haley called for its removal yesterday, but the state’s General Assembly will have to vote. Baltimore County is asking the city to change the name of Robert E. Lee park. (Companies, too, are taking action. According to Quartz, Walmart, Kmart, and Sears have pledged to stop selling the flag and related items, but Amazon and eBay have not yet made a similar stand.)
In a very short time, there is major momentum to put Confederate history in history museums rather than out for public display in centers of civic discourse and urban recreation. Because many people walking by may not even know what these statues are monuments to, this graffiti is the most in-your-face way of making the case.