There's been a lot of discussion lately about whether Confederate monuments and memorials should remain in public spaces. While some may argue that the monuments are an important way to preserve American history, many of the statues that depict Civil War heroes were not erected until decades after the war had already ended. So, why were Confederate monument erected in the first place? In many ways, the statues were meant to be a symbol of white supremacy.
A large number of Confederate memorials were constructed in the 1920s, at a time when Civil War veterans, who had long been respected in Southern society, were dying of old age. It was also a time of great poverty in the region following its loss in the war, and the statues were seen as a way to commemorate a more prosperous past.
"Tributes to the Confederacy — placing statues, naming streets and other public facilities — were part of the Lost Cause ideology that focused on an idyllic era of stately mansions, beautiful women, and gallant Confederate officers," Charles S. Bullock, III, a professor of public and international affairs at the University of Georgia, told Politifact.
But given that Jim Crow laws, which attempted to disenfranchise black Americans, were being enacted in the South around this time, the statues also had a more sinister meaning.
"They were built during a period of racial violence and strong beliefs about Anglo-Saxon supremacy," Karen L. Cox, professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said. "The fact that they were placed on the grounds of county and state courthouses was intentional. The message: white men are in charge."
Jim Crow laws legalized segregation in many states, and essentially made it completely OK for white citizens to discriminate or enact violence against black citizens. Laws have certainly changed since then, but racial discrimination still very much exists in the country, which is why these Confederate monuments and symbols are still so controversial.
For example, in June 2015, a white supremacist shot and killed nine people during a Bible study at a historically black church. While those innocent individuals were being mourned, Confederate flags, symbols of slavery and oppression, were still being flown at the South Carolina statehouse. Similarly, after a 32-year-old woman was killed by white supremacists as they rallied over the removal of a Confederate statue in Charleston this weekend, hundreds of similar monuments that are an homage to white supremacy still exist across the country.
Confederate monuments may be a part of history, but not the part of history that most people probably associate them with. According to many historians, they were constructed with a very particular political agenda, something that should definitely be taken into account when debating their removal.