Apr 25, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Floyd's death set historic pace for Confederate removals

Black Lives Matter activists occupy the traffic circle underneath the statue of Confederate General Robert Lee, now covered in graffiti, on June 13, 2020 at Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.

Black Lives Matter activists stand underneath the statue of Confederate General Robert Lee in Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

Outrage over the police killing of George Floyd 11 months ago has ushered in a historic pace for removals of Confederate symbols from public spaces.

The big picture: At least 167 Confederate symbols around the U.S. have been removed or renamed since Floyd’s death last May, Southern Poverty Law Center data shows.

  • That includes one symbol stolen from public property in Arizona, sparing Gov. Doug Ducey from having to make the call himself.

Driving the news: Tuesday's jury verdict against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin triggered both positive and negative predictions about the prospects of passing racial justice reforms with teeth.

  • But regardless of what Congress does around policing, the dismantlement and replacement of racist symbols has taken on a new momentum at the local, state and national level after decades of efforts.
  • SPLC said 94 Confederate monuments were removed in 2020 — compared with a total of 58 removed between 2015 and 2019. Virginia and North Carolina have led states overall in removing Confederate symbols.

What we're watching: Virginia on Friday celebrated the 70th anniversary of 16-year-old Barbara Johns leading a Black student strike protesting the deplorable conditions in the state's segregated schools. Those students later joined as plaintiffs in Brown vs. Board of Education.

  • Johns, a librarian who died in obscurity in 1991, was recently chosen as a figure to replace the Robert E. Lee statue that was removed from the U.S. Capitol.
  • Atlanta's former Forrest Hill Academy— named after Nathan Bedford Forrest, an ex-Confederate leader and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan — this month was renamed after baseball legend Hank Aaron.
  • States in the American Southwest also have seen pressure to remove symbols honoring Spanish conquistadors who Native Americans have long found offensive.

What they're saying: "The replacement of Robert E. Lee with my sister Barbara is unbelievable — I think we are just in awe of what is happening with her," Joan Johns Cobbs tells Axios. "The fact that she will be in the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., is something that we could never have imagined."

  • "I think erecting Confederate statues was a deliberate act to frighten Black people and to stay in control and intimidate. We are delighted that my sister is part of the trend to correct that."

Don't forget: A eight-member commission established in a bill last year is examining how to relabel U.S. Army bases named for Confederate leaders.

  • The commission includes the first African-American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship and a retired West Point historian who has compared the Confederacy to treason.
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