US Confederate monuments: What is the debate about?

We answer the most asked questions on Confederate statues and list those monuments that are being taken down.

Protests against the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E Lee in Charlottesville turned violent on August 12, when white supremacists clashed with counterprotesters.

The incident triggered a national debate about other such Confederate monuments.

Below we answer the most asked questions.

What was the Confederacy? 

  • The Confederate States of America, also known as the Confederacy, was a group of 11 Southern states that seceded from the Union in 1860. 
  • The Confederate states were South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas
    Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

  • The desire of these states to preserve the institution of slavery was the primary motivation for secession and the main cause of the subsequent American Civil War. 

  • The economies of these states were mostly dependent on the labour of enslaved people of African descent. 

  • In 1865, after the loss of more than 600,000 lives, the Confederacy was defeated, and slavery was abolished.

What is a Confederate statue?

  • Monuments that are meant to honour Confederate leaders, soldiers or the Confederate states.

When were the Confederate statues erected?

  • Most of these statues were not built immediately after the war’s end. The majority were erected between the 1890s and 1950s.

  • According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there have been two periods in which there was a spike in the number of Confederate monuments and symbols.

  • The first began in around 1900, as states enacted Jim Crow laws to disenfranchise African Americans and formally segregate society, and lasted until the 1920s, when there was a resurgence in the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). 

  • The second was in the 1950s and 1960s as a backlash against the Civil Rights Movement.

How many Confederate statues are there?

  • In 2016, in the wake of the massacre of nine black church-goers by white supremacist Dylann Roof, the SPLC identified 1,503 Confederate place names and symbols across the country, noting that its list was not definitive. 

  • These include monuments, memorials, statues, public schools, highways and county and city names among other things.

  • Of those, 718 were monuments and statues. Nearly 300 of them are in Georgia, Virginia and North Carolina. 

Why is there a debate over Confederate monuments?

  • Groups that oppose the removal of the monuments argue that eradicating the monuments effectively erases history. 

  • Some argue that these monuments are meant to celebrate Southern pride, while others believe these spaces should be preserved as reminders of the country’s darker moments.

  • But civil rights activists believe they serve as constant reminders of institutional racism, segregation and slavery. 

  • The struggle over the country’s memory of the Confederacy and slavery has seen these historical sites become a venue for confrontations between the far right and anti-fascists.  

Which statues have been taken down? 

  • As of April, at least 60 symbols of the Confederacy had been removed or renamed since 2015, according to the SPLC. 

  • Below are some of the Confederate statues that have recently been removed, hidden or for which there are plans to do so. 
[Joshua Roberts/Reuters]
[Joshua Roberts/Reuters]


Local authorities in the city of Charlottesville have voted to drape two Confederate statues in black fabric.

The covering of the statues is intended to signal the city’s mourning for Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car slammed into a crowd protesting against the August 12 rally by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.


 [Jose Luis Magana/AP]
 [Jose Luis Magana/AP]

In Maryland on August 18, Baltimore dismantled four Confederacy-related monuments under cover of darkness, including statues of Lee and Lieutenant General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson.

General Jackson was considered one of the South’s most successful generals during the American Civil War. 

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh said she and the city council decided to remove the monuments “quickly and quietly”. 

Authorities also took down a statue of a 19th-century chief justice, Roger Taney.

Although not a Confederate monument, Taney wrote the 1857 Supreme Court ruling known as the Dred Scott decision that reaffirmed slavery and said black people could not be US citizens. 


[Eric Gay/AP photo]
[Eric Gay/AP photo]


The University of Texas is removing statues of Confederate generals Robert E Lee and Albert Sidney Johnston and Confederate postmaster general John H Reagan from a main area of the campus. 

In 2015, the university moved a statue of the Confederate President Jefferson Davis from its perch by the clock tower to the university’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History.

[Alleen Breed/AP photo]
[Alleen Breed/AP photo]

North Carolina

Demonstrators stormed the site of a monument of a Confederate soldier outside a court in Durham, North Carolina, on August 14, and toppled the bronze statue from its base.

Durham County Sheriff Mike Andrews said in a statement that his office would seek vandalism charges against those involved.



A monument to fallen Confederate soldiers in downtown Gainesville was brought down on August 14, and carried away by workers hired by the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the group that placed it there 113 years ago, local media reported.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy is listed as a neo-Confederate group by the SPLC.

The statue now stands in Oak Ridge Cemetery near Rochelle, southeast of Gainesville.


A Confederate monument in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery was taken down on August 15 after the cemetery’s owners received numerous requests for its removal.

The memorial honoured Confederate veterans.

The statue stood since 1925 in a section of the graveyard where Confederate veterans and their families are buried.

New York City 

Busts of Confederate General Robert E Lee and Lieutenant General “Stonewall” Jackson will be removed from the City University of New York’s Hall of Fame for Great Americans because “New York stands against racism,” Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted on August 17.


In Ohio police are conducting an investigation after a Confederate statue in a Civil War cemetery was vandalised on August 22. 

The bronze statue of a Confederate soldier in Camp Chase Cemetery was toppled from its perch on an arch and decapitated. 


On August 17, the City Council in Lexington approved a proposal to remove two Confederate statues from the city’s historic court.

The mayor, Jim Gray, has 30 days to propose a new location for the statues, whose removal must be approved by the Kentucky Military Heritage Commission. 

Source: Al Jazeera