Confederate Statues Come Down Around U.S., But Not Everywhere

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A statue of a Confederate Soldier on Washington Street in Lewisburg, W.Va.

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How a community goes about deciding what to do with its Confederate statue can be arduous, says Leonard Moore, an historian who lectures about race, civil rights and monuments at the University of Texas at Austin.

While he doesn’t believe these Civil War monuments belong on public property, he says those difficult conversations about race and history are, themselves, a sign of progress.


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«I love that we can engage around these things across racial lines,» says Moore, vice president for diversity and community engagement at UT-Austin, which has had its own battle over Confederate statues on campus.

«I just really like that sometimes [with] the non-political correctness, people will tell you what’s on their mind. … Now you can have an honest dialogue and honest debate back and forth.»

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The bronze statue of General Thomas «Stonewall» Jackson, stands in front of the Harrison County Courthouse in Clarksburg, W.Va.

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Zephaniah Timmins, a commissioner in Harrison County, Texas, made a motion to remove the rebel soldier statue in front of his courthouse, and there was no second.

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Harrison County, TX, /NPR


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All four white officials on the commissioner’s court declined to speak to NPR on why they chose to leave the statue standing.

«There are strong feelings on both sides,» Judge Sims said in an email. «I’d like to stay neutral and not be part of any discord.»

Statue defenders such as Jason Mosely, a local painting contractor, are grateful to the court.

«We just want to preserve history is all we wanna do,» he said. «You can’t really go by what that statue says. The Confederacy doesn’t mean that slaves were part of it. That’s just a period of time is all it is.»

But statue opponents say preserving history requires being accurate about history.

«There is no mention in the articles of secession in Texas about state’s rights. Slavery is mentioned 21 times,» says former County Judge Richard Anderson, a Democrat who wants the statue moved. «It was about slavery, pure and simple.»

Head east on the interstate from Marshall — past truck stop casinos, an alligator park and the state line — and you arrive at a city that has taken a different course: Shreveport, Louisiana.

For nearly two decades, the Caddo Parish commission debated what to do with the imposing Civil War memorial in front of the courthouse. Thirty feet tall, it features a rebel soldier, four Confederate generals, and Clio, the muse of history.

But the commissioners always deadlocked: six Black Democrats versus six white Republicans.

At a meeting three years ago, Commissioner Matthew Linn, who is white and Republican, crossed over. He told the packed courtroom at the time: «My decision is not based on me being a Southern boy. My decision is based simply on the fact that I value the purity that a courthouse is supposed to stand for.»

Today, the statue is still a volatile issue.

Linn declined to be interviewed for this report because he doesn’t want more death threats. And Caddo Parish built a wooden barrier around the monument after George Floyd’s death to protect it from protestors and shield it from public view, even though the rebel soldier is still plainly visible.

The statue remains where it is three years later because of legal wrangling with the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who erected the memorial in 1905. The parish plans to move it to a nearby Confederate cemetery, maybe early next year.

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Caddo Parish Commissioner Lyndon B. Johnson stands in front of the Civil War monument that is on its way out. Johnson sponsored the successful motion to have it removed.

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Caddo Parish Commissioner Lyndon B. Johnson stands in front of the Civil War monument that is on its way out. Johnson sponsored the successful motion to have it removed.

John Burnett/NPR

«It doesn’t belong in front of a courthouse. It belongs in a museum, or it belongs in a cemetery,» says Lyndon B. Johnson, the Black commissioner who made the motions to move the monument and erect the box. «And to have it here when people come in wanting to make sure they can get a fair trial, it shows bias.»

Johnson, whose parents named him for the 36th U.S. president, says the symbolism of a Confederate monument in front of a house of justice, in a parish where 40 percent of the population is African American, was so potent that it was influencing the operation of the courts.

«You had jurors in the past that basically didn’t make a jury because of the statue,» he said.

Historian Gary Joiner with Louisiana State University in Shreveport laments the loss of the monument, which is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as representing «the Cult of the Lost Cause.»

«Certainly, Confederate monuments have offended a large part of the community,» Joiner said, «but you can’t look at anything that is so divisive from just one point. When you tear down history, you allow a dumbing-down of the past.»

For some folks, the statue represents ancestors who fought and died in the War Between the States.

For others, it is a reminder of a period of savage racialized violence during the years of Reconstruction known as Bloody Caddo. A historian writes that «reconstituted Confederate military units» turned the parish into «a hunting ground,» executing Black freedmen or driving them off their property.

Longtime Caddo Commissioner Ken Epperson, who is Black, feels so strongly about the statue that he refuses to have his official picture hang in the courthouse until it’s gone.

«And once that thing is gone,» he said emphatically, «just make it a nice, beautiful flower bed or green spot, and that’s the end of it. We don’t want nothin’ else down there.»

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