Confederate Statues Aren't Automatically Destroyed After They Come Down

by Seth Millstein

The recent white supremacist march in Charlottesville has breathed new life into the long-running debate over Confederate statues in the United States and whether they ought to be removed. The answer is that yes, of course they should, because the Confederacy was a racist group that sought to enslave black people. Several statues paying tribute to the Confederacy have already come down since the Charlottesville march — and yet little attention has been paid to what happens to Confederate statues after removal.

Although it may sound trivial, it's actually a serious logistical concern that states and localities seeking to tear down tributes to the Confederacy must address. Should statues be physically destroyed, or simply relocated? If the answer is relocation (and it usually is), should they be moved to private or public locations? Should they remain on display, or be shrouded in darkness?

In fact, there's no standard protocol for what to do with Confederate statues post-removal. That decision is up to whichever authorities have jurisdiction over the land from which the statue is removed, and different authorities make different decisions.

Sometimes, private groups offer to accept toppled Confederate monuments. That's what happened in Florida in July, when a Confederate statue outside the Alachua County Administration Building came down. The United Daughters of the Confederacy accepted the statue — not a surprise, given that it was the same group that erected that statue to begin with. The same month, a private ferry company offered to take a Confederate statue that had been removed from a Maryland courthouse.

That ferry company, however, decided to re-erect the statue in question on one of its boats. That's not an isolated case: When a Confederate monument in Louisville, Kentucky, was removed in 2016, the small town of Brandenberg accepted it, and put it back on public display. In other words, the fact that a Confederate statue was removed doesn't necessarily mean it won't be resurrected elsewhere.

Oftentimes, however, Confederate monuments are taken down before any plans are in place to relocate them. When that's the case — as it was in New Orleans earlier this year — the statues often gather dust in government warehouses until a taker is found. In New Orleans' case, there are legal restrictions: The city's press release states that "only nonprofit and governmental entities" will be allowed to bid on the statues, and even then, they won't be allowed to be displayed outdoors on public property in Orleans Parish.

Rarely are Confederate statues physically destroyed, as historians generally like to preserve them for, well, history's sake. However, that's not always possible: When locals took down a Confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina, earlier in the week, the statue fell onto its "head" and crushed its "legs," thus rendering it less a tribute to the old Confederacy and more a mangled piece of bronze.

If you're curious about the future of Confederate statue removal, here's a live-updating map that shows where the statues are and which are planned for removal.