As people across the country have taken to the streets to protest the police killing of George Floyd, some have focused their frustration on public symbols of the nation’s racist past: Confederate monuments and symbols.
On Monday night, a statute of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was torn from its pedestal in front of his namesake high school in Montgomery, Ala. Because of legal errors in warrants and affidavits, the county district attorney dismissed charges against four people arrested in the incident.
The Montgomery, Ala., school district is “currently assessing damages to the statue,” which is in storage, a district spokeswoman said. Under the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017—a state law that bars the removal, renaming and alteration of most Confederate moments—the school system has up to one year to complete repairs and restore the statue.
Alabama is not the only state where residents are reckoning with its Confederate past in the wake of Floyd’s death. The presence of Confederate monuments and statues across the South has been challenged for years. The death of Floyd, a black man who died as a white police officer knelt on his neck, has reignited the debate. Protesters in cities in Florida, the Carolinas, and Tennessee have also vandalized or toppled local Confederate monuments.
In Mississippi, a geometry teacher in the state’s Hollandale school system faces charges for allegedly vandalizing a Confederate statue on the campus of the University of Mississippi.
While more statues and monuments are targeted for destruction or come under consideration for removal, it will take more than spray paint, rope, and trucks to remove the names and likenesses of Confederate leaders from the more than 100 public K-12 schools that honor them. A 2018 Education Week analysis found that more than 100 schools, almost all below the Mason-Dixon line, still bear the names of figures from that era.
Like Alabama, South Carolina has a law that restricts the renaming of public schools named for Confederate leaders.
In Alabama, the state attorney general has sued the city of Birmingham, after the mayor ordered the removal of a Confederate monument that has stood in the city for more than a century. The attorney general says the mayor, a black man, violated the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, a 2017 law. Protesters in the city had already torn down and vandalized a nearby Confederate statute.
Photo credit: A pedestal that held a statue of Robert E. Lee stands empty outside a high school named for the Confederate general in Montgomery, Ala. Four people were charged with criminal mischief after someone removed the statue amid nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota
--Kim Chandler, Associated Press
A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.