Give It Up, Folks: Confederate Statues Are All About Racism

Last night I posted a chart showing when all those Confederate statues were erected. Here it is again:

I wouldn’t normally bother with this, but I got a bunch of pushback from folks offering non-racist explanations for why these bursts of monument building happened to coincide with periods of white terror campaigns against blacks. For your entertainment, here are the three most popular arguments:

This is right around the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the Civil War. No. The first spike starts in 1895, the second in 1955. Those are the 35th and 95th anniversaries. Maybe those numbers have some special significance in the South?

The Civil War generation was dying right around 1895. The average Confederate trooper would have been about 55 then. They weren’t dying off. As for the Confederate leaders who seem to attract the most statue attention, I looked them up. Robert E. Lee died in 1870, Stonewall Jackson in 1863, Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1877, Roger Taney in 1864, and Jefferson Davis in 1889. Of the eight full generals in the Confederate army, only three died later than 1880.

Maybe there was just a big explosion of statue building right around then. Anything is possible, I guess. Knock yourself out if you want to dig up evidence for this.

A lot of people desperately want to find some reason why these statues aren’t actually symbols of white terror against blacks. And you know what? There are always multiple motivations for everything. But honestly, the primary motivation here is pretty clear. They were only incidentally meant as commemorations of honorable men in a brutal war. Far more often they were erected as very deliberate messages of white supremacy to brutalized blacks.

POSTSCRIPT: One other thing. I’ve heard a few liberal friends pick up on the slippery slope argument. Where do we draw the line? Which statues should we tear down? Did you hear what Al Sharpton said about the Jefferson Memorial? Just stop it. There are times for airy arguments like this, but this isn’t one of them. How about if we just start at the top with all the statues of Confederate leaders and then decide what to do next?

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You expect the big picture, and it's our job at Mother Jones to give it to you. And right now, so many of the troubles we face are the making not of a virus, but of the quest for profit, political or economic (and not just from the man in the White House who could have offered leadership and comfort but instead gave us bleach).

In "News Is Just Like Waste Management," we unpack what the coronavirus crisis has meant for journalism, including Mother Jones’, and how we can rise to the challenge. If you're able to, this is a critical moment to support our nonprofit journalism with a donation: We've scoured our budget and made the cuts we can without impairing our mission, and we hope to raise $400,000 from our community of online readers to help keep our big reporting projects going because this extraordinary pandemic-plus-election year is no time to pull back.

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