Community Conversations: Confederate symbols in present-day America

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, police accountability bills have been introduced in Congress, with corporations recognizing Juneteenth, Mississippi changed its flag, and tributes to controversial leaders in American history have been or are in the process of being removed.

The issue of symbols from the former Confederate States of America — which lasted a handful of years during the Civil War from 1861 when seven southern states seceded from the U.S. to its defeat and end in 1865 — has long been debated by those who say the symbolism is part of southern heritage and others who say it represents slavery; with several groups with white supremacist leanings using Confederate symbolism as part of their messaging.

While some cities have passed laws to protect Confederate symbols, saying they mark history and honor heritage, other cities have made efforts to remove them.

“They’ve changed the story of the Civil War through rewriting textbooks, through public commemorations, through the way they have kind of grappled and grasped the landscapes through movies like ‘Birth of a Nation,’ (and) ‘Gone with the Wind’… and said kind of that the Old South was this gentle place, that the slave owners loved enslaved people,” historian Robert Bland, Ph.D. said. “As you push forward and people begin to tell those histories, this was a war over slavery, the Civil War, well actually Reconstruction has a lot of promise and actually, this history has some hard parts that we really need to reckon with.”

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 38 Confederate monuments have been removed in the U.S. since George Floyd’s death, while 725 monuments remain standing in public spaces.

In Tennessee, the State Capitol Commission voted to move the controversial bust of Confederate Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest from the state capitol to Nashville’s State Museum — after two months of protesters camping outside the state capitol, demanding to speak to Governor Bill Lee.

“It’s also sad and mournful about all it took to get something so simple removed, it took the arrests of over a 150 people,” protest organizer Justin Jones said. “It took us getting death threats, it took us having to move sometimes where we stay and leave from these threats from white supremacists. because they’re so attached to that statute.”

According to the Associated Press, Tennessee’s Historical Commission must now vote on the removal of the bust. That means the measure could be taken up at the next meeting October. A final vote is expected to happen in February 2021.

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