A Turning Point in the Confederate Monument Debate

Make no mistake about it, yesterday’s neo-Nazi rally in defense of the Robert E. Lee monument was a turning point in the broader debate about the place of these structures in our communities. Yes, monuments have already been taken down and flags lowered, but the sight of swastikas, battle flags, and men carrying automatic weapons will shift the relevant questions and clarify what is at stake moving forward.

The mayor of Lexington, Kentucky announced that he will take steps to remove his city’s Confederate monuments. I suspect others will as well and it will likely accelerate the process in cities like Baltimore. The city of Richmond, as I suggested yesterday, will not be able to move forward as planned with simply trying to steer a middle course. They will have to bite the bullet and come to terms with the core issue at hand.

What Dylann Roof did for the Confederate battle flag, James Alex Fields Jr. has done for the Confederate monument debate in killing one woman and seriously injuring scores. The neo-Nazis/neo-Confederates did not come to Charlottesville to engage in a peaceful demonstration to protect their Confederate or Southern heritage. They came armed with automatic weapons and wearing paramilitary uniforms and they killed and wounded in the name of Robert E. Lee and the Confederacy.

Our president may not be able to identify the nature of the violence witnessed yesterday in Charlottesville, but plenty of others have and will continue to do. Yesterday’s violence fit neatly into the history of Confederate monuments. They commemorate individuals and a cause that sought to protect and expand a system of violence and white supremacy. They were erected during and as a result of the violence and intimidation that defined the Jim Crow Era. This group did not simply fall from the sky yesterday.

No one will be able to look at this debate moving forward apart from the images of death, gun-toting thugs, and the face of racism. Nor should they be expected to do so. This darkness is a core aspect of their legacy.

The only question that remains is whether these monuments will continue to serve as rallying points for people who identify with the very cause for which Lee, Jackson, and Davis were willing to give their lives to protect.

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51 comments… add one
  • CP2E Aug 15, 2017 @ 7:02

    Thank you for this thoughtful post, Kevin. Can you recommend any books, papers or other sources that focus on the creation and mounting of Confederate statues during the Jim Crow era? I think a lot of us, including myself, didn’t think of the fact that many of them (if not most?) sprouted up after the war, during the Jim Crow era after Reconstruction, and that sheds quite a different light on the intentions behind their public display. Thanks.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 15, 2017 @ 7:16

      I recommend starting with this page on my website, which I put together after the Confederate monuments came down. If you scroll down you will see a section on Monuments.

    • MSB Aug 15, 2017 @ 7:20

      There are a lot of useful links on this site, if you look around. Kevin has covered the issue for while.

  • Eric Koszyk Aug 14, 2017 @ 22:57

    A lot of activity in Maryland today, regarding Baltimore’s Confederate monuments as well as a statue of Taney outside the capitol building in Annapolis.



  • Eric Koszyk Aug 14, 2017 @ 22:05
  • Kristoffer Aug 13, 2017 @ 19:48

    And for the purpose of me contributing something more useful to the comments here, here’s background information on the Charlottesville killer: http://www.wral.com/man-accused-of-ramming-protesters-pictured-with-racist-group/16878237/
    All I can say is, surprise, surprise.

  • Burnished Rows of Steel Aug 13, 2017 @ 18:45

    The Flaggers or someone affiliated with them have applied for a permit to gather at Lee Circle in Richmond next month. They would be smart to keep the Klan and the LOS away, but we’ll see. This could be big.

  • Nathan Towne Aug 13, 2017 @ 16:29

    This evening, there were a number of demonstrators out protesting against the hatred that spawned the event in Charlottesville in my home town. It isn’t much, but it was nonetheless nice to see.

  • Rob Baker Aug 13, 2017 @ 11:55

    I was literally writing a post about this when you posted this. Talking about an event serving as a catalyst that pushes opinions on monument removal in a different direction.

  • David McCallister Aug 13, 2017 @ 8:12

    ACLU member defends its defense of “Unite The Right”.
    This is a take the propagandists, including historians, need to appreciate, even if they don’t like it.


    • Sandi Saunders Aug 13, 2017 @ 9:19

      The article is right in that defending free speech or any other civil right is not to blame when that free speech is hateful however free speech that incites violence…not so much. But it also said: “Some of the attempts to assign culpability for this violence on others besides the perpetrator were reasonable and rational. In particular, a legitimate causal connection can be drawn between this violence and the two-year flirtation by Donald Trump and several of his closest advisers with the rhetoric and even the activism of white nationalism, as even many of the white supremacists themselves recognized.”

  • Matt McKeon Aug 13, 2017 @ 6:58

    The SCV missed a bet when they didn’t do more to distance themselves from the neo Nazis types.

    Jesus Christ. In 2017, a parade with neo Nazis and the Klan. I wouldn’t have believed it was possible, but I know better now.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:03

      They missed that boat a long time ago.

      • Matt McKeon Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:38

        I guess you’re right. A few months ago I could tell myself, well meaning people could find common ground. In individual communities, that might be true. But a parade, with actual, honest to God Nazis and KKKers, and we’re got this weak “well the other side is worst” crap.

    • John Betts Aug 13, 2017 @ 16:35

      I thank God that I never joined this group. A few years ago I began doing genealogy research and like many Americans found ancestors on both sides of the conflict. I thought about joining both the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War (successor to the Grand Army of the Republic group of vets) as well as the SCV. I figured both were in the mold of the DAR or SAR, pretty non-controversial and focused on historical research. When I looked into the latter, I found very quickly how wrong I was. At least this all led me to blogs like this one and Dead Confederates…

  • Joshism Aug 13, 2017 @ 6:28

    I’m still perplexed by the neo-nazi group that reappropriated the Detriot Red Wings logo.

    • Ken Noe Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:47

      You mean the anti-immigrant Detroit Right Wings? Soon to be sued into poverty by the real Red Wings?

    • GenghisKen Aug 13, 2017 @ 8:03

      Logo appropriated by a White Nationalist group, the Detroit Right Wings.

  • Sandi Saunders Aug 13, 2017 @ 6:01

    At some point, even the most ardent defenders of pride in their heritage have to come to grips with the people their cause attracts, and why.

    The remarks of David Duke and the presentation, agenda and actions of the “free hate speech” organizers tell us that there remains a vestige of the deep cancer of the Confederacy still in this nation. This division will not be welcomed, tolerated or celebrated no matter how many people they elect, curse, protest, beat, kill or maim. It did not stop them losing the Civil War, though the cost was dear. It did not stop them losing Jim Crow and segregation. It will not stop them losing the monuments and reverence for what brings such vile people to any community. In all cases, they brought the defeat on themselves.

    To think Robert E. Lee would sanction this evil is to be mentally unstable.

  • P davis Aug 13, 2017 @ 5:24

    Right! Domestic terrorists at work.
    Wrong! Confederate statues, memorials and cemeteries are history -commemorate American leaders, and the struggles they fought and died for, not to be erased because they offend.
    American Indians killed thousands, and we honor their struggle, same for confederates. What next? Remove Egyptian pyramids because they owned slaves?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 13, 2017 @ 5:28

      Monuments to history are removed/relocated/destroyed all the time. What would you say to people in Eastern European countries under the formerly Soviet bloc who viewed the destruction and/or removal of monuments to communism as a means to move forward? Were the Allies wrong to destroy public monuments to the Third Reich at the end of WWII. What about the removal of the Joe Paterno statue at Penn State or the monument to Sadaam Hussein in Baghdad.

    • Joshism Aug 13, 2017 @ 6:27

      “Confederate statues, memorials and cemeteries are history – commemorate American leaders, and the struggles they fought and died for, not to be erased because they offend.”

      You just contradicted yourself. The statues are not history, they COMMEMORATE history.

      All history should be remembered. Not all history should be commemorated.

    • Sandi Saunders Aug 13, 2017 @ 6:36

      P Davis, it was domestic terrorism. Confederate statues are propaganda and they only commemorate Confederate leaders. The fact that white supremacists time and time again, rally to them should buy you a clue to the real meaning and the real problem they cause.

      Being on the same side of any cause as white supremacists should be a problem for everyone who worships these public statues. Erasing propaganda does not erase history, but it most assuredly can erase a monument so many vile groups revere.

    • John Betts Aug 13, 2017 @ 16:30

      Objections to these Confederate statues have existed since they were first erected. Take, for example, this from when they began going up in Richmond in the late 1880s:


  • Daniel Yates Aug 13, 2017 @ 5:19

    Yesterday’s events were horrific, no doubt. I am not a white supremacist nor do I support their methods. However, removing confederate monuments is unnecessary stupidity and a form of hatred in itself. Are we going to take down all the monuments to MLK and Rosa Parks because of the actions of BLM? I think not. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. So, where is the logic in erasing the Confederacy from our history? All of these hate groups need to be dealt with. Neo Nazi, ANTIFA, BLM, all of them. Removing our history as a nation is another debate entirely.

    • Andy Hall Aug 13, 2017 @ 6:27

      “However, removing confederate monuments is unnecessary stupidity and a form of hatred in itself. Are we going to take down all the monuments to MLK and Rosa Parks because of the actions of BLM? I think not.”

      The core objections to monuments honoring Robert E. Lee are rooted in the actions of Robert E. Lee, which seems relevant to me. The events in Charlottesville are a reminder, perhaps, of who it is in 2017 who believe Lee represents their ideology.

    • Sandi Saunders Aug 13, 2017 @ 6:29

      Sorry to have to tell you this Daniel Yates but your comment proves you really are more aligned with white supremacy than you admit. When the debate on removing, contextualizing or just pondering the future of Confederate monuments and statues leads the KKK, white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and other evil right-wing Trump supporters coming to town it is too late to claim racism is not part of the equation.

      Comparing this mob to Black Lives Matters or the statues to Rosa Parks and MLK, none of which is based in supporting racial supremacy, racial discrimination and racial animosity is very sad and telling. Groups fighting racism, fascism or inequality are not “hate groups.”

      The sooner the monuments they venerate are down, the better off we will all be. They proved that yesterday. You should worry more about why white supremacists honor and revere the Confederacy.

      • Reggie Bartlett Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:22

        The Black Lives Matter analogy would make more sense if he mentioned all those dead cops in Dallas and Baton Rouge, who were killed as a direct result of the Black Lives Matter movement’s own violent, regressive rhetoric.

        And not a word from this lot about the Bernie-Bro who almost killed Congressman Scalise.

        Is violence only “bad” when it doesn’t fit your narrative Mrs. Saunders? Because I’m getting a feeling that you have a bad cognitive dissonance. Same goes for you Andy.

        • Jimmy Dick Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:39

          Gee, the left denounced the people who committed violence and helped to repair damages. The left rejected the violent means of the fanatics. Meanwhile the right wing does their best to continue lying about what is going on.

          The right wing narrative is one of bigoty, racism, and hate. It was on parade in Charlottesville yesterday. Either you are against it or you are part of it. There is no middle ground.

        • Sandi Saunders Aug 13, 2017 @ 9:15

          Reggie Bartlett, your analogy is as wrong as your feeling. I do not defend any violence by anyone, but BLM is not comparable to the white supremacist cretins just because violence happens at an event. When violence breaks out after a sports event, do you blame the teams?

          • Kristoffer Aug 13, 2017 @ 19:34

            Actually, BLM is more comparable than you might think. 60 years ago, brave blacks in the Civil Rights Movement started to succeed in getting rid of racial segregation. Now, thanks to BLM, their grandkids want racial segregation back: https://ethicsalarms.com/tag/segregation/

            • Kevin Levin Aug 14, 2017 @ 1:36

              This is a simplistic understanding of BLM.

            • MSB Aug 15, 2017 @ 7:15

              Their grandkids want the right not to be murdered by the police for the “crime” of Living While Black.

    • Jimmy Dick Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:42

      Robert E. Lee was a traitor who committed treason against the United States of America. Rosa Parks was a black woman who stood up to racism using non-violent means in challenging laws that were unconstitutional and wrong. If you can’t see a difference here, then your moral compass is way off.

      Lee will never be removed from history. He should be remembered for doing what he did…treason and fighting to protect slavery. He deserves no statue.

    • John Betts Aug 13, 2017 @ 16:24

      Tell you what, if we can’t put these statues in museums where they belong than let’s end this controversy with a compromise. We’ll agree to leave every one of these Confederate statues where they are. However, let’s borrow a page from our Hungarian friends and re-fashion them all in the style of their “Stalin’s Boots” monument in Budapest.


  • eah Aug 13, 2017 @ 4:48

    You’re a Jew, right?

  • Nathan Towne Aug 13, 2017 @ 3:41

    Well, I have now been able to watch a number of videos that were taken of the rally. For what it is worth, the impression that I am getting of what seems to have taken place is as follows:

    In essence, this “Unite the Right” rally seems to have formed out of a conglomeration of rabid Trump supporters, white nationalists and neo-nazi’s who marched to the Robert E. Lee sculpture and through the University of Virginia campus wielding tiki torches and chanting “blood and soil,” the Nazi expression, among other things. It seems to have been extralegal. Over the course of the event/march, they were met by a number of counter-protesters. In several cases, it appears as though the marchers attacked those protesting the march, such as around the statue itself. In others, the videos show that the marchers were attacked by counter-protesters. At some point, amidst all of this, this young man, James Alex Fields jr. drove his vehicle into the crowd of counter-protesters, killing an individual.

    The whole rally in itself is absolutely vile and disgusting. It does not appear to be accurate to say though that the protesters came with the intent of killing and maiming people. If that were the case, certainly more than one person would have been killed. It appears more to be a hate rally which elicited an emotional response resulting in counter protests, some of whom were attacked and others who did the attacking.

    No individual is justified in physically attacking another outside of as a means of defending themselves, no matter how much we despise the message. End of story. All who did bear must responsibility for their actions, no matter whom they identify with.

    That is what I believe America stands for and that is what I stand for.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 13, 2017 @ 3:53

      It does not appear to be accurate to say though that the protesters came with the intent of killing and maiming people.

      I guess we draw different conclusions from the sight of heavily armed men wearing paramilitary uniforms.

      • Nathan Towne Aug 13, 2017 @ 4:35

        Well, there was what appears to be a homicide that took place, so there was an act of terrorism.

        Beyond that, I just go where the evidence points me. Clearly, that is not to the same place as a Dylann Roof, Xavier Micah Johnson or Adam Lanza.

        You have to diagnose it accurately to know how to respond.

        • Kevin Levin Aug 13, 2017 @ 4:46

          Perhaps you should spend some time on their websites.

          • Nathan Towne Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:30

            I doubt that there is much chance that I will be visiting a white supremacist website for any reason whatsoever, but I do acknowledge your point.

            Basically though, just in terms of principle, the monument shouldn’t be there in the first place. It should not still be standing. I don’t see anything that I can do about it though without infringing upon the rights of the local population.

  • Patrick Joseph Young Aug 13, 2017 @ 3:14

    What city is going to want to maintain what have become altars for the Alt-Right?

    • Matt McKeon Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:00

      I agree. But America’s Brownshirts do give a shit about old statues and what happens to them. They want publicity, recruits, and blood.

      • Matt McKeon Aug 13, 2017 @ 7:30

        excuse me, don’t give a shit about statues.

        • Sandi Saunders Aug 13, 2017 @ 9:09

          I think the fact that time and time again they choose the Confederate iconography proves that they care a great deal about preserving the message they believe those statues, that flag, that conflict offers. They venerate them not for any brave soldier ancestors but for the propaganda value to their cause.

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