On Saturday, white supremacists converged on Charlottesville, Va. to protest the pending removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Their stated goal: to “take America back” — and to begin doing so by saving Lee’s monument, which has become a lightning rod since the local city council voted to remove it earlier this year.
And within three days, politicians in a number of cities, far from protecting their own Confederate monuments, had instead moved to hasten their removal. In Baltimore and Jacksonville, Fla., in Memphis and Lexington, Ky., local leaders acted to begin getting rid of these long-standing landmarks.
“Mayors are on the razor’s edge. When you see the tension. When you see the violence that we saw in Charlottesville,” Lexington Mayor Jim Gray told a local CBS affiliate, “then you know that we must act.”
He said Sunday he has recommended to the city council that the statues depicting Confederate officers John C. Breckinridge and John Hunt Morgan be relocated to a new site where they would stand side by side with with “two monuments to the Union effort.” In their current location, the Confederate monuments stand on land that formerly played host to one of the South’s largest slave auction blocks.
“It’s just not right that we would continue to honor these Confederate men who fought to preserve slavery on the same ground as men, women and even children were once sold into a life of slavery,” Gray said in a video statement. “Relocating these statues and explaining them is the right thing to do.”
Meanwhile, in Memphis, city leaders re-asserted their longstanding resistance to Confederate monuments on public land, promising again to fight for those statues’ removal. State lawmakers have required that these memorials could only be moved with a waiver from the Tennessee Historical Commission, which has previously rejected the city’s attempts to remove a statue of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.
“What Nathan Bedford Forrest stood for doesn’t express the views of this community at this time,” City Attorney Bruce McMullen told the local Commercial Appeal, “and it’s counterproductive to what we want this community to be, and that is an inclusive community working together.”
Along with the still-pending waiver application to have Forrest’s statue removed, McMullen told the paper the city plans to apply for a waiver to pull a monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis from a park.
In Baltimore, too, Mayor Catherine Pugh said Monday that she had reached out to contractors to discuss relocating the city’s four monuments to the Confederacy, according to The Baltimore Sun.
The city council president in Jacksonville, Fla., said Monday she is preparing a plan to relocate its Confederate monuments “from public property to museums and educational institutions where they can be respectfully preserved and historically contextualized.” Elsewhere in Florida, in Gainesville, construction workers took down a 113-year-old Confederate statue Monday morning.
“There was no riot. No protesters showed up,” The Gainesville Sun reported.
In all, “at least 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy can be found in public spaces across the country, mostly in the Deep South,” the Southern Poverty Law Center noted in a report last year. “Most were put in place during the early decades of Jim Crow or in reaction to the civil rights movement.”
And many of them remain flashpoints of controversy between those who wish to see them removed and those who see them as crucial markers of their community’s past.
As for Lexington, Gray said the relocation of his city’s monuments would enable residents to “tell the story accurately and share a truthful history.”
“It’s true that hiding our history won’t allow our future generations to learn and avoid the same mistakes,” Gray said. “But keeping monuments to those who fought to preserve slavery on this hallowed ground is simply not right.”