The Southern Poverty Law Center last week announced that, in 2020, North Carolina removed more Confederate symbols than any other state except Virginia.

There were at least 168 symbols and monuments “renamed or removed” from public spaces in the United States last year. Twenty-four were in North Carolina, according to the SPLC report, “Whose Heritage?”

Virginia got rid of 71 Confederate symbols and monuments, while Alabama and Texas tied for third place, scrapping 12 each.

The SPLC report notes that the removal of the symbols and monuments was in response to the police killing of George Floyd last year. 

At  least 167 Confederate symbols were removed, including the toppling of two Confederate statues in downtown Raleigh, by Black Lives Matter protesters days after Floyd’s death.

As previously reported in the INDY, several hundred anti-racist protesters gathered outside the state’s old Capitol grounds in June and pulled down the statue of a Confederate soldier that toppled headfirst into bushes. After ripping down the second statue, protesters dragged the metal soldiers through downtown and strung up one by the neck from a street sign at the intersection of Hargett and Salisbury streets. 

The report lists more than 2,100 Confederate symbols still present across the country; 704 of those are monuments. 

The Confederate memorial locations include government buildings, monuments and statues, plaques, markers, schools, parks, counties, cities, military property and streets and highways named after anyone associated with the Confederacy.

As previously reported in the INDY, there are about 100 Confederate monuments in North Carolina. The landmarks weren’t erected immediately after the Civil War to honor fallen Confederate soldiers. Instead, they served as a means to proclaim white supremacy in the public square following the destruction of Reconstruction, newly imposed Jim Crow laws and the disenfranchisement of Black Americans during a period that scholars have described as the nadir of race relations in America.

The SPLC report notes public consciousness about the very real harm posed by toxic symbols increased following the 2015 massacre at a Black church in Charleston, S.C., where nine worshippers were murdered by a white supremacist.

The deadly racial violence that year did not prevent state legislators in North and South Carolina from passing a law that forbids local governments from removing monuments without the state’s permission.

Floyd’s death was a tipping point.

The SPLC report notes that, last year, 94 Confederate symbols were removed from public sites in the United States. 

By comparison, 58 Confederate monuments were removed between 2015 and 2019, including here in the Triangle when protesters toppled Silent Sam on UNC-Chapel Hill’s campus in 2018, and downed the Confederate statue in front of the Old Durham Courthouse the year before.

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