At least two dozen Confederate monuments have been taken down or toppled since the beginning of the nationwide anti-racism protests, and more statues are being pulled down by the day. And yet, for every monument that has been removed, 10 others remain nationally, according to a study conducted by the data analysis company BeenVerified. And in states like West Virginia, South Carolina, and Mississippi, almost none have been removed.
The study is based on an analysis of dozens of media reports from 2020 compared with data collected from a 2019 report by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC tracked statues, plaques, schools, roads, military bases, buildings, parks, and other public monuments honoring former Confederate soldiers. BeenVerified’s study includes symbols that have been either torn down by protestors or officially removed by local authorities.
While thousands have taken action and spoken out against the presence of monuments to racist leaders, President Donald Trump is threatening to crack down on protesters who pull down or deface Confederate symbols with a new executive order. In a tweet yesterday, June 23, Trump announced that he had authorized the federal government to “arrest anyone who vandalizes or destroys any monument, statue or other such Federal property in the US with up to 10 years in prison,” as stated in the Veteran’s Memorial Preservation Act and other laws.
Trump added that his order may be used retroactively to arrest protesters who had taken down or defaced monuments and threatened that there will be “No exceptions!”
According to BeenVerified’s analysis, Virginia leads the number of removed monuments in recent weeks. In the wake of the protests demanding justice for police brutality victims like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, there have been 12 felled statues and symbols in the state. (This number includes the state’s planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue, although it has been blocked by a temporary injunction from a Richmond circuit court.) Texas and Florida come next with five each, followed by Alabama (four) and Georgia and Kentucky (two each).
Historically, the 50 states have removed a total of 172 Confederate monuments over the course of history, but 1,712 remain standing.
The states that have the largest number of remaining monuments are West Virginia, where none have been removed; 99% of monuments in South Carolina and Mississippi remain standing; and 96% remain in Arkansas. They are followed by Georgia, North Carolina, and Alabama, all of which have 95% of their monuments in tact.
An uptick in the removal of Confederate statues was registered in 2015 following the Charleston church attack in South Carolina, in which 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof ambushed and killed 9 Black citizens during a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. A total of 16 Confederate monuments were removed nationwide during that year compared to just two in the previous year. That trend continued through 2018, peaking to 55 removed Confederate symbols in 2017, but waned again in 2019 when only 8 were removed.
“The Confederate symbol removal gained traction after the 2015 Charleston, South Carolina, church shootings, which ignited a nationwide debate on these symbols and their prominence in public spaces,” said Brian Ross, a senior data analyst for BeenVerified. “But after peaking in 2017, the trend has been on a decline — until the death of George Floyd.”
Throughout history, the states with the largest cluster of confederate monuments have been Virginia (244) and Texas (199), followed by South Carolina (194), North Carolina (169), and Mississippi (147). While the majority of these symbols remain in former Confederate states and Border States, many exist in Northern states and new states formed after the Civil War, including California and Ohio (five each), New York and Pennsylvania (three each); Washington, Idaho, and Montana (two each).
The states with the top percentage of removals (out of states that had at least 10 Confederate symbols) are Maryland, which removed 70% of its monuments over the years, and California, which took down 50%. Next on the list are Florida and Oklahoma (22%) and Missouri and the District of Columbia (17%).
The study has also examined the Confederate figures to whom these monuments are dedicated and found that the vast majority of them feature Robert E. Lee (220), Confederate president Jefferson Davis (145), and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (108).
An interactive map created by Dr. Hillary Green, an associate professor at the University of Alabama, provides a comprehensive count of all the toppled and removed racist monuments in the United States and worldwide.
The map pins all removed Confederate State Army monuments, memorials, and plaques before and after Charleston Massacre in 2015. It also includes removed and toppled monuments for individuals connected to slavery, white supremacy, and settler colonialism.
While Green’s map shows a thicket of pins in the American South, a testament to the success of organizers who have demanded and achieved the removal of many racist monuments, hundreds more remain in place, their fate in the hands of community activists and policymakers.