All across the country, Confederate statues are being removed from public spaces. City councils, churches, civic organizations and individuals are working together to end the honoring of those that committed treason so that slavery could be maintained. In fact, the movement has become international in scope: from the U.S. to the Caribbean to England and Africa. Wherever enslavement of Africans took place, those who profited have been celebrated and memorialized.
As we struggle to remove statues in Jacksonville, we have found resistance from the entire Jacksonville City Council. Not a single City Council member has been willing to introduce proposed legislation to remove Jacksonville’s symbols of white supremacy. We have also found that the city’s historically black college, Edward Waters College, refuses to support the removal of these statues. College officials cite concerns over losing financial support from the city.
We know that these monuments were not erected right after the Civil War, but much later, toward the close of the 19th century and into the second half of the 20th. They weren’t honorable memorials to the fallen but symbols of support for ongoing segregation.
The truth about the Civil War has been shrouded in half-truths and outright lies for decades. It has been romanticized in movies such as Gone with the Wind and it has been sanitized in our schools. The sanitized Civil War narrative goes something like this: The war was fought because the North wanted the South to pay higher taxes. The North refused to recognize Southern States’ rights. Thus, the story goes, the war had to be fought because of Northern aggression. The truth is that the Civil War was fought over the South’s desire to maintain the institution of slavery and to continue to profit from it.
The answer to why the South was willing to commit treason by secession from the United States can be found in what has become known as the “Cornerstone speech.” This speech was written and delivered by the Vice President of the Confederacy, Alexander H. Stephens. In the speech, he clearly lays out his white supremacist views and the reason for the war. As he challenged the notion that we are all equal, he stated, “Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests upon the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition. [Applause] This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
The raising of Confederate monuments at that particular time was part and parcel of the legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement that haunts African Americans to this day. The statues were raised to reinforce the propaganda of white supremacy. The celebrating and memorializing of Confederate soldiers, racist politicians and those that enslaved Africans sent a threatening and intimidating message to the African-American community.
After the Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved Africans, lynchings in the United States rose in number. The Tuskegee Institute reports that 4,743 people were lynched nationwide between 1882 and 1968. One example was Jack Turner. He was lynched in Butler, Alabama, in 1882 for organizing black voters in Choctaw County. Another example is Calvin Mike. After he voted in Calhoun County, Georgia, in 1884, a white mob attacked and burned his home, lynching his elderly mother and his two young daughters, Emma and Lillie.
To remove these Confederate monuments is neither to change nor erase history. What will change with such removals is what American communities decide is worthy of civic honor.
The fight to remove the Confederate statues in Jacksonville is led by TakeEmDownJax, a local group dedicated to removing the Florida Confederate Soldiers Memorial in Hemming Park and the Monument to the Women of the South in Confederate Park.
TakeEmDownJax is participating in TakeEmDownEverywhere’s international conference March 22-24. This network of groups from around the country—and the world—is working to remove symbols of white supremacy in their respective cities. The conference is an opportunity to raise consciousness and strategize about how to continue the struggle.
We urge the public to participate in a rally which will be held 3 p.m. March 23 at Confederate Park, 956 Hubbard St., followed by a panel discussion at the IBEW Union Hall at 966 North Liberty St. at 5 p.m. Among the featured speakers will be Maya Little, who led a successful campaign to remove the statue of Silent Sam, a Confederate statue from the University of North Carolina campus, and Michael “Quess” Moore, who led the struggle to remove Confederate statues in New Orleans.
Todd is a member of TakeEmDownJax. For more information, visit takeemdowneverywhere.org.