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A Robert E. Lee monument in Richmond, Virginia is one of the 704 monuments to the Confederacy that remain standing in the US, despite unprecedented progress in removing Confederate symbols in 2020. (photo via Flickr)

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A new report released by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found that 168 Confederate symbols were removed, renamed, or relocated across the country in 2020, nearly all following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. His death sparked a renewed reckoning with racist violence in America, leading to international protests and the toppling of statues by civilians and municipal figures. Per the SPLC’s analysis, only one instance of a Confederate symbol removal, Virginia’s renaming of Lee-Jackson Day in April as Election Day, took place before Floyd’s killing.

Notably, 94 Confederate monuments came down in 2020 alone — nearly twice the number of statues removed between 2015 and 2019.

“2020 was a transformative year for the Confederate symbols movement,” said SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks. “Over the course of seven months, more symbols of hate were removed from public property than in the preceding four years combined.”

In June last year, Hyperallergic reported that at least two dozen Confederate monuments had been taken down or toppled since the beginning of nationwide Black Lives Matter protests. According to the SPLC’s count, 2,100 public Confederate symbols remain, 704 of them monuments. Aside from sculptures, other symbols memorializing the Confederacy can include buildings, plaques, markers, streets, and public spaces named after anyone associated with the Lost Cause.

The new report shows that Virginia led the country in eliminating Confederate symbols in 2020, with 71 removals in total — among them statues of former Confederacy president Jefferson Davis and General Stonewall Jackson on Richmond’s Monument Avenue. A highly controversial bronze of Robert E. Lee still stands on the block despite attempts by Gov. Ralph Northam to have it dismantled, its removal blocked by two pending lawsuits. 

Despite unprecedented progress last year in effacing emblems that glorify the nation’s racist past, preservation laws still in place in several Southern states prevent communities from removing Confederate memorials. In Alabama, an effort to repeal the Memorial Preservation Act, which prohibits the removal of any monuments 40 years or older located on public property, was rejected in the state legislature this week.

In South Carolina, where a white supremacist took the lives of nine African Americans during a Bible study in the 2015 Charleston church shooting, the state’s draconian Heritage Act ensured that no Confederate symbols were removed last year.

“As witnessed on Jan. 6 when an insurrectionist brazenly carried a Confederate flag through the halls of the U.S. Capitol, Confederate symbols are a form of systemic racism used to intimidate, instill fear, and remind Black people that they have no place in American society,” Brooks said. 

The SPLC’s report is a 2020 year-end update to its “Whose Heritage?” project, which tracks public symbols of the Confederacy in the US.

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Valentina Di Liscia

Valentina Di Liscia is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Argentina, she studied at the University of Chicago and is currently working on her MA at Hunter College, where she received the...