By Mitch Landrieu
As part of our research for Divided by Design, we heard how the legacies of the Confederacy and Jim Crow are still widely felt by residents in the South. Confederate symbols and monuments, and political rhetoric about the identity of a place, often prioritize and commemorate a one-sided history that disregards the lasting institutional effects of racism.
Some 155 years after the end of the Civil War, why do we remain stuck on whether these Confederate symbols are acceptable?
The unwillingness of many, particularly white, people to confront our hate-filled history — including its close ties to heritage, and its lasting impact on modern institutions — has hindered the development of more contemporary southern identities associated with openness and reconciliation. The truth is these monuments tell us the wrong history. Many don’t know our whole history because it was never taught. The landscape — from our textbooks to museums to public spaces — does not accurately reflect our whole or our true history. And there is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence for an inaccurate version of it.
In the past weeks, we’ve seen progress. Statues are falling left and right, some with the support of those in elected office, but also some by the people, and even across the pond. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called for the removal of Confederate statues from display in the Capitol. General David Petraeus, perhaps the most recognizable modern military figure alive, called for ten military bases to be renamed. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy even called for a “bipartisan discussion” on renaming bases. Even NASCAR last week banned the display of Confederate flags at races. So things are on the move.
Some have asked me how removing a statue or flag is connected to George Floyd’s death or how it is doing anything to advance racial justice. And the answer is now more apparent than ever. They are related in the ways we, as a country, have dehumanized Black lives. This has been endemic since our nation’s birth.
This moment gives us an opportunity to be intentional about how to correct that. And in a small way, removing these statues and forcing the conversation about the truth of our past is a step towards healing and reconciliation.
The impact of institutional racism is everywhere you look. Let’s stay motivated to continue to change it. We cannot run away.
Founder and President
UNUM FELLOWS PROGRAM CALLS ON SOUTHERN LOCAL ELECTED LEADERS TO WORK TOWARDS RACIAL & ECONOMIC EQUITY IN THEIR COMMUNITIES
Yesterday we opened applications for UNUM Fellows, a signature initiative aimed at equipping local elected leaders in the South with resources, training and technical expertise to advance racial and economic equity in their communities. Originally launched in early March, the program and application period were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The application period closes on July 31, 2020 at 11:59 p.m. EST. Download our factsheet.
- Build skills for creating equitable organizations
- Design equity-driven policy
- Use data and research to affect change
- Develop strategies to build public will for transformative change
- Talk about race in a way that moves people forward
To learn more about the UNUM Fellows program, visit unumfund.org/fellows.
HEARD AROUND THE SOUTH
News and stories about southern communities
Alabama: ‘Watershed moment’: Will removal of Confederate monuments lead to lasting change in Alabama?
Arkansas: Movement underway to remove Fort Smith Confederate statue
Florida: Gadsden County removes Confederate monument in Quincy
Georgia: Some ‘see heritage, I see oppression.’ Ex-mayor calls for Confederate statue’s removal
Kentucky: Historic vote: Jefferson Davis statue to be removed from the Kentucky Capitol rotunda
Louisiana: ‘Symbols are powerful things’: New Orleans Council readies changes to Confederate street names
Mississippi: ‘We have the momentum.’ Calls grow to change Coast Confederate monument, state flag
North Carolina: Activists tore down Confederate statue in Durham. Now some want pedestal gone too.
Tennessee: Franklin parent proposes plan to remove Confederate flag from Williamson County seal
Texas: Houston’s Confederate statues to be removed, Turner announces
Recent News & Commentary
What we’re reading
USA Today: Will the Black Lives Matter movement finally put an end to Confederate flags and statues?
The national protest movement that has erupted in the wake of George Floyd’s death has rekindled a fire under the cultural tinderbox known as the American Confederacy.
Washington Post: Confederate statues: In 2020, a renewed battle in America’s enduring Civil War
In a blitz that burst out of the anti-police-brutality movement, protesters this month have vandalized and removed dozens of monuments to Confederate politicians and soldiers.
Washington Post: Scores of public schools still have names glorifying Confederate icons — and changing them isn’t easy
There have been new calls to remove public statues honoring Confederate leaders amid nationwide protests against racial injustice led by the Black Lives Matter movement.
New York Times: These Are the 10 U.S. Army Installations Named for Confederates
A debate is unfolding over whether to rename the installations, as part of a broader national reckoning over buildings, monuments and memorials to men who fought to preserve slavery.
Research and toolkits from across the country
Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy
The Civil War ended 154 years ago. It’s past time for the South — and the rest of the nation — to bury the myth of the Lost Cause once and for all.
Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch
Hatewatch is a blog that monitors and exposes the activities of the American radical right.