The current argument against removing confederate monuments is that they are actually nothing more than Civil War Memorials and serve to represent the lives lost during the conflict. Supporters argue that such memorials represent an important part of history and should be preserved as such.
The supporters’ arguments could not be further from the truth. A quick way of determining the true purpose of such monuments is looking at the year they were commissioned. Understanding when confederate monuments were constructed tells you why they should come down.
As can be seen in the above graph, from pages 12-13 of a report of the Southern Poverty Law Center entitled “Whose Heritage?”, the vast majority were built during the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1900’s. As reconstruction wound down, and Jim Crow reared its ugly head, Southern racism reached an all-time high of public acceptance.
The KKK was regularly holding ten thousand man marches through major cities like Washington. In addition to well known examples such as the late-Sen. Robert Byrd, D-West Virginia, the 64th Governor of Georgia was a Klansman, as was the 38th Governor of Alabama. Much of the local political power was in the hands of the Klan up through the 1940s.
One of the KKK’s earliest achievements was the whitewashing of confederate generals and the Southern cause. It was at this time that historicans began to argue that slavery was only a secondary cause for the Civil War. Generals such as Robert E. Lee were recast as valiant heroes who tried to bring North and South back together after the war. Actual historical records paint a very different picture of Lee.
Constructing monuments to the Confederacy was a major part of this historical revisionism: They were commissioned by cities and towns across the South either directly or indirectly motivated by the historical revisionism promoted by the Klan.
Supporters of keeping the monuments are partially right on one count. These statues do represent an important part of history: When the Ku Klux Klan controlled the South and initiated a revision of the historical record.
The purpose of these confederate monuments is clear, and is contradictory to the view that any American city today adopts about the equality of all lives. While this is ultimately a local government decision, it should be an easy one for any mayor to make.