Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Future of Confederate Monuments

The recent removal of two Confederate monuments in Memphis, Tennessee suggests that this recent wave has yet to crest. We will likely see additional removals in 2018. As for specifics, it is difficult to say. I suspect that we have not heard the last from Charlottesville. Maintaining the Lee and Jackson monuments underneath a black tarp indefinitely is not a long-term solution. Richmond is a complete mystery to me.

One thing to watch out for is how the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination is commemorated this coming April. In fact, the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis monuments in Memphis was an attempt to get ahead of the city’s plans to celebrate and commemorate his life and death. Of course, Memphis is where King was assassinated.

It is likely that commemorative events elsewhere, related to King’s assassination, will bring Confederate iconography into the public spotlight. The narrative around which King is remembered may also play a role. We have certainly been reminded over the past few years that this country remains bitterly divided along racial lines. This past summer the president of the United States went out of his way to excuse the actions of white supremacists in Charlottesville. In other words, we are likely to see a narrative that highlights division and a lack of racial progress this coming April.

I am not suggesting that we will see another wave of removals and relocations as we saw in 2017. In fact, I think we have focused too much on this as a measure of how our collective memory of the Civil War and the Confederacy has evolved in recent years. Rather, keep an eye out on how Confederate sites of memory are used to gauge the success of- and progress coming out of the civil rights movement.

One of the places that I will be following is Stone Mountain, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. Not too long ago there were plans to place a bell atop the mountain in honor of King.


As this is the final post of 2017 I wanted to wish all of you a very Happy New Year. This has been a year like no other for me on a number of fronts and I am very excited to see what 2018 will bring. Thank you for continuing to make this blog a part of your daily Internet travels and for your continued support.

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“Levin’s study is the first of its kind to blueprint and then debunk the mythology of enslaved African Americans who allegedly served voluntarily in behalf of the Confederacy.”–Journal of Southern History

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7 comments… add one
  • R. Henry Jan 6, 2018 @ 9:53

    This post prompts me to wonder, did Martin Luther King express any opinions on the presence of confederate monuments, or on the rebel flag?

  • David McCallister Dec 31, 2017 @ 11:16

    Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., ” I have a dream that one day …
    sons of former slaves and sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” 1963.
    Memphis just pushed the Table of Brotherhood two statues-worth farther away. And, desecrated a grave site; and sold public land to hostile interests, in an obviously illegal subterfuge which cries out for justice. Why? Qui bono?
    Of course there are those who do not want to see this day.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 31, 2017 @ 11:19

      Memphis just pushed the Table of Brotherhood two statues-worth farther away.

      It’s hard to see how removing a monument to a slave trader, Confederate general, and Klan leader pushes us further away from King’s dream.

      • Ted Mcknight Dec 31, 2017 @ 11:33

        Take off your blinders and ask some black friends their opinions of current racial divisions created by SJWs and BLM type groups.

        • woodrowfan Jan 4, 2018 @ 6:27

          the same thing was said about Dr. King back in the day. “Oh, he’s the one dividing people!” or “he’s the one causing the problems.”

  • Msb Dec 31, 2017 @ 6:16

    A very happy new year to you, Kevin. Many thanks for your fine work this year and best wishes for 2018.

    • Kevin Levin Dec 31, 2017 @ 11:52

      Thanks for the kind words. All the best in the New Year.

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