The George Floyd killing last month has led to a flurry of activity surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement. The overwhelmingly peaceful protests that started and continue in the wake of his death have led to sweeping police reform proposals, calls to defund the police and reallocate that funding directly back into the local community, and even TV shows that helped glorify police violence being canceled.
And as Fast Company reported previously, the movement has reignited calls for racists monuments to be pulled down, too. In the U.K. an online tool has launched that marks the location of dozens of racist landmarks in the U.K. that the creators of the tool say should be removed.
But what about the U.S.? Americans now have access to a similar tool, thanks to data compiled by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The tool, called Whose Heritage: Public Symbols of the Confederacy, lists 1,747 monuments and other Confederate symbols of America’s racist past including statues; flags; and schools, highways, parks, military bases, and other public works honoring Confederate leaders, soldiers, or the Confederate States of America.
While the breadth of people and institutions these symbols commemorate is wide, the SPLC found that there were some figures that account for a large number of the memorials. But by and far, Robert E. Lee, the commander of the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, comes out on top with 230 memorials. For a reminder, as The Atlantic notes, Lee was a racist who argued that slavery was good for black people, saying:
The blacks are immeasurably better off here [in the American south] than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things.
Lee went on to tell a New York Herald reporter that setting slaves free would be bad for black people, arguing “that unless some humane course is adopted, based on wisdom and Christian principles, you do a gross wrong and injustice to the whole negro race in setting them free. And it is only this consideration that has led the wisdom, intelligence and Christianity of the South to support and defend the institution up to this time.”
And this guy still has 230 memorials to him in America (well, maybe one less. We’ll see.).
As the SPLC points out, “Our public entities 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.” They’ve also compiled a chart showing when a majority of these monuments and other memorials were erected.
As you can see, virtually all of the memorials were erected after the Confederacy lost the Civil War. And dozens alone have been erected since the civil rights movement in the 1960s. This dramatically weakens the common argument that the memorials are historically significant as many of them are much less than a century old.