In August of last year, in the town of Charlottesville, Virginia, which is adjacent to Washington D.C, there was a clash between white supremacists who were trying to block the removal of a bronze statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and an opposition group. During the clash, a female member of the opposition group was killed and many others were injured. At a press conference several days after the incident, President Trump created controversy by condemning not only the white supremacists but also the opposition group.
Many of these statues, that the President called the “history and culture (of the South) ” at that same controversial press conference, were actually built after the Civil War. Many were erected during the 1910s and 20s, when the “Jim Crow” laws, which were designed to enforce racial segregation, were established; many were also built in the era of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s when the Jim Crow laws were abolished. This is the reason for many of the theories stating that the bronze statues are not actually symbols of southern culture, but were in fact built for the purpose of legitimizing white supremacy and suppressing black people. Meanwhile, there are still those in the southern states who subscribe to a different theory; they do not accept the defeat of the south in the Civil War, and adhere to the concept of the “Lost Cause of the Confederacy” (the idea that the Confederate States fought an honorable battle to preserve their independence, but were defeated only because the North had greater resources and more soldiers). Some people argue that from that viewpoint, the statues are images which symbolize southern history and should therefore not be removed.
The movement to remove the bronze statues began spreading as a result of shootings by white supremacist youths which claimed the lives of nine black people in South Carolina in 2015. The Charlottesville Incident has also spurred this movement.
I visited Charlottesville three months after the incident. The bronze statue is in a small park in a quiet residential area, where is it hard to imagine such an incident occurring. Since the clash in August, the city has decided to cover the bronze statue with a black plastic sheet. The actual removal of the statue remains blocked by a court injunction