Confederate statues were never really about preserving history

The biggest spike in Confederate memorials came during the early 1900s, soon after Southern states enacted a number of sweeping laws to disenfranchise Black Americans and segregate society. During this period, more than 400 monuments were built as part of an organized strategy to reshape Civil War history. And this effort was largely spearheaded by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who sponsored hundreds of statues, predominantly in the South in the early 20th century — and as recently as 2011…

From around 1920 to the early 1940s, there was a second wave of statue building. Jane Dailey, professor of American history at the University of Chicago, said this period of construction coincided with more Black Americans’ fighting for civil rights and pushing back against widespread lynchings in the South. “You have Black soldiers who have just fought for their country [in World War I] and fought to make the world safe for democracy, coming back to an America that’s determined to lynch them,” said Dailey. “[T]hose were very clearly white supremacist monuments and are designed to intimidate, not just memorialize.”

And a significant portion of those monuments were erected on courthouse grounds. According to Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center, placing these memorials on courthouse property, especially in the 1950s and ’60s, was meant to remind Black Americans of the struggle and subjugation they would face in their fight for civil rights and equal protection under the law.

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