These Racist Monuments Are Still Standing In America

by Noor Al-Sibai
Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On April 24, the nation's attention turned to New Orleans, Louisiana, when city officials took down the first of four monuments perceived by many to celebrate white supremacy, racism, and the Confederacy. The removal of the Liberty Place obelisk on "Confederate Memorial Day" in this Southern cultural capital is a step in the right direction, but there are still tons of racist monuments standing in the United States that seem to commemorate the country's bloody history of slavery and white supremacy.

Those not living in the South often fail to grasp the complexity of the issues surrounding the flying of the Confederate flag and monuments dedicated to Confederate generals and other famous slave-owners. But in many Southern states, celebrating the South's armed resistance to the Emancipation Proclamation is considered an act of "Southern pride." Because of the somewhat-celebrated legacy of the Civil War's "rebels" (as commemorated by the "rebel flag"), many advocates for slavery, as well as slave owners, have been celebrated not only in the South, but in the nationwide cultural canon as well. From presidential slave owners like Thomas Jefferson to the somehow still disputed legacy of Andrew Jackson, these problematic figures and the institutions they represent are still present in many places.

The Civil War reigns in the Southern imagination, as evidenced by how many schools are named after Confederate leaders and how many cities restore plantations for tours and weddings — but the Confederacy isn't the only source of racist monuments, nor is the South their only home. Although more and more racist monuments are being taken down, there are too many still standing.

1. A Segregated War Memorial In South Carolina

In the relatively small city of Greenwood, South Carolina, there stands a monument to those who died in World War I. The plaque is meant to commemorate the lives lost in the war, but instead, segregates them in death by race. In 2015, the mayor of Greenwood tried to replace the memorial with a less-segregated version, but discovered that it was against state laws that required a two-thirds vote in the state legislature to remove historical monuments such as the plaque. So, the plaque remains as a reminder of segregation even in death for the men of Greenwood, both Black and white, who died in the First World War.

2. The Statue Of A Confederate Soldier At UNC

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is arguably one of the country's most famous schools, and spawned such famous alumni as basketball players Michael Jordan and Vince Carter, and the comedian Lewis Black. But it also is home to a startlingly racist legacy — not only that of the many slaves who helped build the famous Southern school, but also in the form of a statue of a Confederate soldier known as "Silent Sam." Built as a monument to the 321 UNC alumni who fought for the South in the Civil War, this statue continues to stand despite the obvious racism it represents, including comments made at its unveiling in 1913.

3. A Plaque Commemorating One Of The Nation's Largest Racial Massacre

In Colfax, Louisiana, a plaque stands at the site of the Colfax Massacre, a brutal moment in the state's history where hundreds of Black defenders of the county's courthouse after a pro-Reconstruction election were killed by members of a white militia determined to continue white rule in the post-Civil War era. The plaque, of course, tells a different story — it calls the massacre the "Colfax riot," and refers to the Black state militiamen with a derogatory term by claiming that the massacre "marked the end of carpetbag misrule." "Carpetbagger" was a negative term used in southern states to describe those who moved from the North to the South during the Reconstruction era.

4. A Massive Statue Of A Composer In Pittsburgh

In a park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, stands a peculiar statue of the city's own composer Stephen Foster. In the statue, Foster is seen looking down at the viewer, but also at the man seated near his feet, smiling and playing the banjo. That man, as it turns out, is the composer's Black muse for his minstrel song "Uncle Ned." The statue was commissioned by the Pittsburgh Press in 1900, and the mental image that served as inspiration for the statue is itself full of slurs. Many have attempted to petition the city to take down the statue of the composer, but it remains standing in the Rust Belt metropolis to this day.

5. The World's Largest Confederate Flag That Calls Florida Home

The flag that flies at Confederate Memorial Park in Brandon, Florida, is different than the other monuments on this list. While the others were erected of stone and metal, the centerpiece of this memorial is made of fabric — yards and yards of it, printed with the image of the Confederate flag that continues to represent either "Southern heritage" or the South's racist legacy, depending on who you ask. In the wake of the horrific shootings of Black parishioners by a gunman at the Emmanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, a profile on the memorial and its advocates in the Los Angeles Times reveals the deep divide between those who see the flag as a sign of hatred and those who cling to it as a symbol of pride.

6. An Obelisk Memorializing A Slave Owner In Asheville, North Carolina

Anyone familiar with Asheville, North Carolina, knows it as the "San Francisco of the South," but fewer realize that the giant obelisk in the city's center is named after Zebulon B. Vance, a Confederate general and former governor of the state. It's far from the only monument to Vance in the state — there's at least one high school and one county named after the slave-owning general, and a building named for Vance at the local university has been criticized by students — but this massive structure's status as a common meeting-place for protests is bizarre to say the least.

7. A Huge Confederate Memorial In The Suburbs Of Atlanta

Stone Mountain, Georgia is the fictitious home of Kenneth Parcell on 30 Rock (and the real-life hometown of Donald Glover, who wrote for the show), but it's also home to one of the biggest racist monuments in the country. The carvings into the massive "stone mountain" at Stone Mountain Park bills itself as "the largest high relief sculpture in the world," and it features carvings of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, and "Stonewall" Jackson. This huge monument to the confederacy is a popular tourist attraction, but isn't without its share of controversy. Not only does it depict three men who led soldiers based on the principle that the South should decide whether or not they wanted to own slaves, but it also was the site of the rebirth of the second Klu Klux Klan in 1915.

8. The Statue Of A Confederate Leader & Alleged Klan Member That Stands In D.C.

When protesters packed the Judiciary Square Metro station in Washington, D.C. for the Women's March on Inauguration Day, it's likely that few knew they'd be flooding out past a statue of a Confederate general who is believed to have been a member of the Klu Klux Klan. They did exactly that, though, when exiting into the square and walking past the unassuming statue of Albert Pike, the famed freemason, Confederate general, and alleged KKK member that sits at the heart of the Judiciary Square green near the capitol building. It remains unclear whether or not Pike was, in fact, a Klan member, but what is known about him (such as his stance against integrating Masonic temples and, you know, fighting for the South) don't make it much of a stretch.

The United States is full of racist monuments, as well as buildings, cities, and schools named after bona fide racists. What's happening in New Orleans is a surely a good sign, but there's much progress to be made to undo the country's historical and institutional ties to racism and white supremacy.

Images: Wikimedia Commons (1)