People gather around the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia, after Gov. Ralph Northam announced plans to remove the statue. Photo: Ryan M. Kelly/AFP via Getty Images

Protests against police violence and racism have sharpened the focus of a long-standing debate about the place for and relevance of Confederate-era monuments and iconography.

What's happening: In some cities, monuments have become a hub for demonstrations, while others have been vandalized or toppled by protesters. In some instances, government officials have ordered them to be removed altogether.

  • Protesters in Richmond on Sunday pulled down a statue of Williams Carter Wickham, a Confederate general during the Civil War.
  • Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Thursday the state will remove the memorial for Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond's historic Monument Avenue.
  • Officials in Alexandria, Virginia, removed a statue of a Confederate soldier named "Appomattox" on Tuesday.
  • City officials in Mobile, Alabama, removed the statue of Confederate Adm. Raphael Semmes from the downtown area Friday, Mayor Sandy Stimpson tweeted.
  • Officials at Nicholls State University in Louisiana are changing the names of two college buildings dedicated to Confederate generals.
  • The U.S. Marines issued a directive on Friday ordering the removal of all public displays of the Confederate flag, including from bumper stickers, posters, mugs, posters and clothing.
  • Law enforcement in Montgomery, Alabama, charged four people with criminal mischief for tearing down another statue of Lee that stood in front of Lee High School on Monday. A judge on Thursday dropped the case.

Why it matters: Civil rights advocates say the Confederate monuments pay deference to America's legacy of slavery and racism and want them removed. Others say the statues represent Southern history and heritage.

  • Context: The debate has resurfaced in recent years during flashpoints for race relations spurred by acts of racism-fueled violence — such as in the wake of the shooting at a Charleston church in 2015, and after a white supremacist killed a woman when he drove a car through a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

Between the lines: The Southern Poverty Law Center conducted a comprehensive analysis of 1,747 publicly sponsored symbols — including monuments, statues, flags, holidays, and the names of schools, highways and other locations — honoring the Confederacy.

  • SPLC found two primary periods where the dedication of these symbols spiked — during the first 20 years of the 20th century, coinciding with the enactment of Jim Crow laws, and during the Civil Rights Movement. Both were periods of extreme racial tension.
  • Zoom in: According to a registration form to add Richmond's Robert E. Lee statue to the National Park Service’s registry of historic places, the monument was erected in 1887 to commemorate the general and “herald the emergence of a New South from the adversity of defeat and reconstruction.”
  • "Instead of choosing to heal the wounds of the American Civil War, they chose to keep them on display," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said at a press conference announcing the statue's removal Thursday. "They launched a new campaign to undo the results of the Civil War by other means. They needed a symbol to shore up the cause. And it’s quite a symbol."

Yes, but: Harriet Senie, an art historian at the City College of New York specializing in public memorials, told NPR she favors a slower process for removing the statues, in addition to systemic changes.

  • "I think it's important that we own our history," Senie said. "We can take down all the Confederate monuments in this country, but that will not end racism if we can't learn from them."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add more context to Senie's position on Confederate monuments.

Go deeper

Updated Aug 19, 2020 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on the future of the Democratic party

DNC week: On Wednesday, August 20 Axios co-founder Mike Allen hosted a conversation on the future of the Democratic Party, featuring Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), DNC Chair Tom Perez, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney.

Mayor Levar Stoney unpacked his efforts to remove confederate statues and monuments in Richmond and the racist historical legacy they represent.

  • On taking down confederate iconography: "We should be ashamed of these monuments. We should be ashamed of these symbols as Americans...I know in 2020 that my city is better than that. I know my state is better than that. And I definitely know that my country is better than that."

Sen. Cory Booker discussed the historic 2020 election ticket, his vision for how communities can expand their view of what makes safe neighborhoods, and how to maintain transparency and accountability in governance.

  • On the nomination of Sen. Kamala Harris as VP: "I think it's this feeling of affirmation that for the first time since the founding of this nation, I can look up at that historic ticket and see myself."
  • On rethinking community safety and situations where law enforcement gets involved: "We need to...treat mental illness not with jail or prison, but with help and health care. Those kinds of things ultimately reduce violence, make us safe, safer, but more importantly, elevate human well-being and human flourishing."

Gov. Phil Murphy broke down New Jersey's COVID-19 response and highlighted which successful efforts could be replicated by other states.

  • On his advice for other state governments: "I think history will not judge you harshly if you overcorrect, if you are too aggressive with this virus. I think we will all be judged, on the other hand, very harshly if you under-correct, if you underestimated."

Tom Perez stressed the importance of getting out the vote for the fall election and discussed the efforts undertaken by the Democratic party to uphold voting rights.

  • On the Democratic party's voter protection efforts: "We've never had a more robust voter protection operation than we do now...The reason for this is that Donald Trump has been very, very clear — [he's] going to try to make it harder for eligible people to vote. [The Trump campaign] doesn't want everyone to vote. They want less people to vote. That's their only formula for success: suppressing the vote."
  • On the 2020 election and the historic Democratic ticket: "This is history-making. And so many levels, shattering the gender glass ceiling, shattering the racial glass ceiling...This is historic, but it will be only a historical footnote unless we win."

Thank you Bank of America for sponsoring this event.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 32,471,119 — Total deaths: 987,593 — Total recoveries: 22,374,557Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 7,032,524 — Total deaths: 203,657 — Total recoveries: 2,727,335 — Total tests: 99,483,712Map.
  3. States: "We’re not closing anything going forward": Florida fully lifts COVID restaurant restrictions — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam tests positive for coronavirus.
  4. Health: Young people accounted for 20% of cases this summer.
  5. Business: Coronavirus has made airports happier places The expiration of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance looms.
  6. Education: Where bringing students back to school is most risky.
Mike Allen, author of AM
11 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden pushes unity message in new TV wave

A fresh Joe Biden ad, "New Start," signals an effort by his campaign to make unity a central theme, underscoring a new passage in his stump speech that says he won't be a president just for Democrats but for all Americans.

What he's saying: The ad — which began Friday night, and is a follow-up to "Fresh Start" — draws from a Biden speech earlier in the week in Manitowoc, Wisconsin: