Give It Up, Folks: Confederate Statues Are All About Racism

Last night I posted a chart showing when all those Confederate statues were erected. Here it is again:

I wouldn’t normally bother with this, but I got a bunch of pushback from folks offering non-racist explanations for why these bursts of monument building happened to coincide with periods of white terror campaigns against blacks. For your entertainment, here are the three most popular arguments:

This is right around the 50th and 100th anniversaries of the Civil War. No. The first spike starts in 1895, the second in 1955. Those are the 35th and 95th anniversaries. Maybe those numbers have some special significance in the South?

The Civil War generation was dying right around 1895. The average Confederate trooper would have been about 55 then. They weren’t dying off. As for the Confederate leaders who seem to attract the most statue attention, I looked them up. Robert E. Lee died in 1870, Stonewall Jackson in 1863, Nathan Bedford Forrest in 1877, Roger Taney in 1864, and Jefferson Davis in 1889. Of the eight full generals in the Confederate army, only three died later than 1880.

Maybe there was just a big explosion of statue building right around then. Anything is possible, I guess. Knock yourself out if you want to dig up evidence for this.

A lot of people desperately want to find some reason why these statues aren’t actually symbols of white terror against blacks. And you know what? There are always multiple motivations for everything. But honestly, the primary motivation here is pretty clear. They were only incidentally meant as commemorations of honorable men in a brutal war. Far more often they were erected as very deliberate messages of white supremacy to brutalized blacks.

POSTSCRIPT: One other thing. I’ve heard a few liberal friends pick up on the slippery slope argument. Where do we draw the line? Which statues should we tear down? Did you hear what Al Sharpton said about the Jefferson Memorial? Just stop it. There are times for airy arguments like this, but this isn’t one of them. How about if we just start at the top with all the statues of Confederate leaders and then decide what to do next?


Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend