10 confederate memorials that are somehow still standing

The Confederacy is synonymous with violent oppression, but you wouldn't know it from the Kentucky state capitol

Published October 31, 2015 11:00AM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.


In a piece enumerating visions for our nation’s capital that never quite panned out, the Washington Post lists this bright idea from the D.C. chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy: A statue to memorialize “the faithful slave mammies of the South." The U.S. Senate in 1923 actually got on board with the project; one Southern Congressman wistfully recalled that “[n]o class of any race of people held in bondage could be found anywhere who lived more free from care and distress.” Most of the ideas submitted by white sculptors were what you’d expect – “mammy” figures happily caring for white babies – but the image proposed by one black artist hews closest to the truth. The Post describes it as a “black servant holding a white baby by a shirttail while standing atop a washtub” with an inscription that reads, “In grateful memory to one we never paid a cent of wages during a lifetime of service.”

The statue idea was ultimately scrapped, not that it matters much, anyway. Even without its completion, there is no lack of memorials around this country to the Confederacy, and they do just as fine a job of erasing the reality of what the Confederacy stood for. Nearly 200 K-12 public schools bear the names of figures that fought against the Union in the Civil War. There are 10 U.S. Army bases named for Confederate generals. There are even memorials to “faithful slaves,” which I’m sure the United Daughters of the Confederacy – they still exist, you know – support wholeheartedly. The South lost the Civil War, and what they were fighting for was inhumane and immoral. You just wouldn’t necessarily know it to count the number of homages to the Confederacy that exist.

So here’s a mere 10 of the many. Most of them garnered the glare of local and national attention following the Charleston massacre, when Dylan Roof walked into an African-American church and fatally shot nine people for being black. Roof, as we all know by now, found the Confederate flag a useful tool in his expression of racial hatred. These are places where, despite a history of terror, violence and bloodshed that goes back long before Roof, it still flies.

1. Frankfort, KY: Jefferson Davis Statue in the State Capitol

Kentucky never seceded from the Union, but was a slaveholding state with no lack of sympathizers for the Confederacy or its cause (which was slavery, according to a thing called history). Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States of America, was born in Kentucky, and the statue of him in the state capitol building was erected in 1936. Though NAACP President Raoul Cunningham unsuccessfully attempted to have it removed in 2003, the statue again became an issue following the Charleston massacre. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who hails from the state, suggested it should be removed from the capitol building, where its upkeep is maintained by tax dollars, and placed in a museum. But a survey showed most Kentuckians wanted Davis to stay right where he was. (African-American Kentuckians, more specifically, were a bit less keen on the idea.) Describing a rally held this summer to keep the statue in the capitol, one local news outlet said “[m]any of the people at the rally held Confederate flags, and some wore Civil War era military uniforms.” An all-white state committee ultimately voted the statue should stay put because, since it sits directly across from a statue of Kentucky-born Abraham Lincoln, the two “speak volumes about the divide that Kentucky felt during the Civil War.”

2. Nashville, TN: Nathan Bedford Forrest statue

Nathan Bedford Forrest was a Confederate general who led his troops in the Fort Pillow massacre, which involved the slaughter of hundreds of black Union soldiers who had already surrendered, along with their white counterparts. (A Confederate soldier and newspaper correspondent wrote,“The sight of Negro soldiers stirred the bosoms of our soldiers with courageous madness.”) Forrest’s other claim to fame was that he was the first head of the Ku Klux Klan, so, yeah, real nice guy. This particular statue of Forrest would probably be even more offensive were it not so terribly rendered, as if it fashioned by someone who’s had a human described to him but has never actually seen one in real life. The "artist" is Jack Kershaw, an avowed racist lawyer who – true story – once defended James Earl Ray. Of his totally stupid-looking ode to Forrest he reportedly said, “Somebody needs to say a good word for slavery.”

3. San Diego, CA: Robert E. Lee Elementary School

Do a Google search for “Robert E. Lee” and “school” and you’ll find that a lot of people who named educational institutions around this country really enjoyed Lee’s work. This particular namesake of the Confederate general is located in California, proving that as much as America likes to pretend racism is regional, the legacy of race hatred in this country stretches from sea to shining sea! Lorenza Gonzalez, a local Democratic Assemblywoman, has been pushing for a name change since before the Charleston massacre. “I feel strongly that we shouldn't have a school named for a Confederate general who fought against the U.S. over the right to own people," Gonzalez told the Los Angeles Times, making a pretty excellent point that we shouldn’t even have to discuss in this, the year 2015. "I have an African-American child. That any child, especially those whose ancestors were enslaved, should attend a school named for a Confederate general seems wrong," which, again, point goes to Rodriguez. San Diego Unified School District will reportedly be holding community meetings to pick a new name.

4. (Near) Apache Junction, AZ: Jefferson Davis Highway

Arizona has several Confederate memorials: Wikipedia lists Confederate veterans’ monuments in two different cemeteries and one on the grounds neighboring the state capitol building. There’s also Jefferson Davis highway, described as “a small stretch of Highway 80 between Bisbee and Tombstone” which is sponsored by the local chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Reginald Bolding, a state Representative, began calling for a name change just after the Charleston mass shooting. "In light of everything that has happened...we can't go through our daily lives honoring symbols of hate, symbols of separation and symbols of segregation right now," Bolding told the Arizona Republic. The legislator plans to submit a petition to the Arizona State Board of Geographic and Historic Names, which will then take up the issue with the state transportation agency.

5. Stone Mountain, GA: The Confederate Memorial Carving at Stone Mountain Georgia

Stone Mountain is famous for three things: 1) producing the beloved fictional idiot Kenneth Parcell from the show 30 Rock, 2) hosting a weekly “Lasershow Spectacular” every summer that seems pretty bitchin’ to high school students who are wasted drunk and/or trippin’ balls, and 3) being the site of the largest depiction of Confederate jerks anywhere in the world. Seriously – the bas-relief of Davis, Lee and Stonewall Jackson carved into the side of the mountain is bigger than a football field or Mount Rushmore. That Stone Mountain is the home of this giant love letter to slavery is kind of fitting for a town that was once boastfully proud of being the birthplace of the modern Ku Klux Klan. Today, however, Stone Mountain is about 75 percent black and the Klan doesn’t have the same cachet it once carried. Current proposals on the table include the construction of a memorial to Martin Luther King atop the mountain and “a permanent exhibit on African-American soldiers in the Civil War.” Both civil rights and Confederate groups have responded with mixed reviews of these ideas.

In any case, here’s a picture of a guy wearing a shirt that spells “NAACP” using the Confederate flag (and redubs it the “National Association for the Awakening of Confederate Patriots”) from a Stone Mountain rally this summer. Another rally by pro-Confederate-flag geniuses is scheduled for mid November.

6. Orange, TX: Confederate Memorial of the Wind 

If you’re driving west from Louisiana to Texas on Interstate-10, you can soon expect to be met by a brand spanking new monument displaying 32 Confederate flags – one for every Texas regiment in the Confederate army. The Sons of Confederate Veterans began construction on the site in 2013 but it’s only nearing completion now, in this era when the horrible meaning of the flag has been made unmistakably clear to even those trying their hardest to play dumb. Did I mention that it sits at the intersection of a highway and Martin Luther King Jr. Drive? It seems important to mention that because can you believe these fucking guys? An SCV member who spoke to the Daily Beastabout the monument gave the usual speech about the Civil War not being fought over slavery, a fact the site points out is contradicted by Texas’ very own Declaration of Succession.

7. Brooklyn, NY: General Lee Avenue & Stonewall Jackson Drive

New York City only has one military base, Fort Hamilton, and who should’ve been stationed there early in their careers but Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Today, the base has streets named for both. Though they’ve likely been there for a pretty long time, neither of the roads elicited attention, much less outcry, until the Charleston shooting – and a Business Insider article that pointed out their existence. (“Most people probably don’t know who General Lee is,” one employee told the New York Post. “It wasn’t a serious issue at all until now.”) Local Representative Hakeem Jeffries, who has spearheaded efforts to change the street names, told Business Insider, “Brooklyn is one of the most diverse counties in America, with sizable communities of color. There is no good reason for a street to be named after an individual who led the Confederate Army in the fight to keep slavery and racial subjugation alive in America. It is my hope that we will do the right thing and find an appropriate local hero for whom the street can be renamed."

8. Augusta, GA: Fort Gordon

Remember those 10 U.S. Army bases named for Confederate officers we mentioned earlier? This is one of them. Its namesake is John Brown Gordon, a Confederate Army general who seems to have dedicated his post-war life to terrorizing former slaves. According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, after fighting ended, “Gordon returned to Atlanta, where he worked assiduously to undermine Reconstruction and became one of the leading proponents of both the New South creed and the cult of the Lost Cause. [He was] generally acknowledged as the head of the Ku Klux Klan in Georgia.” Though Gordon publicly denied being a Grand Dragon of the KKK – going so far as to feign ignorance of the organization’s existence – his testimony before Congress reads like a cautionary tale in laying it on waaaaay too thick. (You should definitely read it. This guy makes "Birth of a Nation" look even-handed.) In addition to having a base named for him in the state, memorials to Gordon across Georgia include a couple of statues, a highway and even a college.

9. Georgetown, DE: Confederate Soldiers’ Monument

Maybe you remember the Sons of Confederate Veterans from an earlier entry about the Confederate mega-memorial they’re building in Texas. Apparently, all around the country, chapters of the group have been busy the last few years, because they’re also behind this monument in Delaware. Erected in 2007, the nine-foot obelisk is flanked on either side by the Delaware and Confederate flags. An SVC member told a local news outlet, "The blood of a lot of American ancestors is on that flag," which seems like an odd way of phrasing it since Confederate soldiers were fighting againstAmerica. Local voices of opposition include city council president Chris Bullock, who said, “You don't have the swastika flying in Germany; you don't have the apartheid flag flying in South Africa. Why should we have that flag flying in America, the home of the free and the brave?"

10. Washington, DC: Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in Stained Glass at the Washington National Cathedral 

Among the many figures from both Christian and American history depicted in the stained glass of the Washington National Cathedral are Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, who appear almost saintly in their depiction. The inscription beneath the window with Lee at its center identifies him as “a Christian soldier without fear and without reproach”; Jackson’s says he proceeded “humbly before his Creator, whose word was his guide.” The Washington Post notes the odd juxtaposition of the windows against the history of the church, noting that dean Francis B. Sayre (1951-1978) told his parishioners to join the fight for black civil rights and took part in the march from Selma to Montgomery. In the days leading up to his death, Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the church. Following the Charleston shooting, the cathedral’s current dean, the Very Rev. Gary Hall, sent out a press release indicating the windows would be removed. An excerpt is below:

“It is time to take those windows out. Here, in 2015, we know that celebrating the lives of these two men, and the flag under which they fought, promotes neither healing nor reconciliation, especially for our African-American sisters and brothers...There is no place for the Confederate battle flag in the iconography of the nation’s most visible faith community. We cannot in good conscience justify the presence of the Confederate flag in this house of prayer for all people, nor can we honor the systematic oppression of African-Americans for which these two men fought and died...Let me be clear: We do not seek to eliminate reminders of a painful past. Rather, we seek to represent that past honestly in a manner that matches our shared aspirations for a diverse, just and compassionate nation.”

By Kali Holloway

Kali Holloway is the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She co-curated the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s MetLiveArts 2017 summer performance and film series, “Theater of the Resist.” She previously worked on the HBO documentary Southern Rites, PBS documentary The New Public and Emmy-nominated film Brooklyn Castle, and Outreach Consultant on the award-winning documentary The New Black. Her writing has appeared in AlterNet, Salon, the Guardian, TIME, the Huffington Post, the National Memo, and numerous other outlets.

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