Why are Confederate statues at the center of latest conflict in US?

Charlottesville violence: A group of counter-protesters rally against members of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Source: Reuters) Top News

Last week in , Virginia white supremacists descended onto the city to protest against the city’s plan to remove Confederate statues, namely pro-slavery Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s statue. After Charlottesville voted for the removal of the statue earlier this year, white nationalist leaders had protested against the decision multiple times. In May this year, white nationalist leader Richard Spencer had come to the statue with his supporters for a nighttime protest. Subsequently, in June, at least 50 members of a North Carolina-based Ku Klux Klan group travelled all the way to Charlottesville for a protest rally, where they were met with hundreds of counter-protesters.

The protests are different from previous ones in terms of its sheer scale and open display of Nazi propaganda. Nazi-era slogans like ‘blood and soil’, ‘You will not replace us’, ‘ Jew will not replace us’, echoed through the protest site by torch-wielding white nationalists. Meanwhile, the protests took a deadly turn when a 20-year-old man ploughed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters killing a 32-year-old woman and wounded several others. Also Read:

White nationalist demonstrators walk through town after their rally was declared illegal near Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Hours after the death, US President Donald Trump denounced the violence but stopped short of condemning the white nationalists and Nazi groups. Trump’s criticism of neo-Nazi groups came only two days later when he said, “Racism is evil. White supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.”

Responding to Charlottesville incident, Kentucky Mayor Jim Gray fast tracked his city’s plans to take down the Confederate monuments. Soon after, in North Carolina’s Durham, protesters also pulled down a statue dedicated to Confederate soldiers, followed by Baltimore’s decision to tear down its own Confederate monuments almost overnight this week. Also Read:

A makeshift memorial of flowers and a photo of victim, Heather Heyer, sits in Charlottesville, Va., Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017. Heyer died when a car rammed into a group of people who were protesting the presence of white supremacists who had gathered in the city for a rally. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Why is America suddenly so concerned about pulling down these statues?

The current protests go back to a mass shooting incident in 2015, involving a self-proclaimed white supremacist Dylann Roof who gunned down at least nine African-Americans in South Carolina’s Charleston. The incident drew a lot of eyeballs as Roof was displayed in pictures after the attack posing with the Confederate flag. This stoked a fight within South Carolina whether it should pull down a Confederate flag that had historically flown at the state capitol for years now. Eventually, the state officially took down the flag.

A demonstrator holds signs during a rally in response to the Charlottesville, Virginia car attack on counter-protesters after the “Unite the Right” rally organized by white nationalists, in Oakland, California, U.S., August 12, 2017. Picture taken August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Ever since this incident came into the spotlight, many states, particularly in the South, have increasingly questioned their very own Confederate symbols. The core argument is this: Confederacy was essentially built upon the premise of preserving slavery and white supremacy in the United States of America. So this isn’t something the country needs to honour or commemorate in any possible way.

Critics of Confederate monuments opine that these statues are really not about commemorating pro-slavery movement but merely preserving Southern pride. They are going by the premise that if you take down these statues, you’re taking down a part of history with it. But historians believe that the documents from the time reveal that Confederacy was built upon maintaining slavery.

To add insult to the injury, US President Donald Trump controversially compared George Washington with Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson in one of his statements. “This week, it is Robert E. Lee and, this week, Stonewall Jackson. Is it George Washington next? You have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”

A white nationalist demonstrator walks into Lee Park in Charlottesville, Va., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. Hundreds of people chanted, threw punches, hurled water bottles and unleashed chemical sprays on each other Saturday after violence erupted at a white nationalist rally in Virginia. At least one person was arrested. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Here is where the entire discussion gets a little complicated, raising pertinent questions about the United States of America and its history. Historical evidence certainly suggests the answer is very clear: The Confederacy and the monuments dedicated to it always stood for white supremacy, although much of US is coming to terms with it.

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