George Floyd protesters target confederate monuments in numerous cities

Statues of more recent racist figures also defaced

Sunday 31 May 2020 19:37
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A monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia is covered with graffiti
A monument to Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia is covered with graffiti

As tense protests, sparked by the death of George Floyd, swelled across the country over Saturday night into Sunday morning, Confederate monuments in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Mississippi were defaced.

The presence of Confederate monuments across the South — and elsewhere in the United States — has been challenged for years, and some of the monuments targeted were already under consideration for removal.

The words “spiritual genocide”, along with red handprints, were painted on the sides of a Confederate monument on the University of Mississippi campus Saturday, The Oxford Eagle reported. One person was arrested at the scene.

In Charleston, South Carolina, protesters defaced a Confederate statue near The Battery, a historic area on the coastal city's southern tip. The base of the Confederate Defenders statue, erected in 1932, was spray-painted, including with the words “BLM” and “traitors”, news outlets reported. It was later covered with tarp, photos show.

In North Carolina, the base of a Confederate monument at the State Capitol was marked with a black X and the phrase "F*** the police", according to a photo posted by a News & Observer journalist to social media. The word “racist” was also marked on the monument, the newspaper reported.

The question of Confederate monuments has been especially contentious in North Carolina, where such monuments are generally protected by law.

A nearly two-year battle was waged over the fate of the “Silent Sam” statue after it was toppled by protesters at the University of North Carolina's flagship Chapel Hill campus in 2018. A legal agreement reached last November handed over the statue to a group of Confederate descendants, keeping it off campus. A Confederate statue outside a Durham courthouse was also torn down by protesters.

Democratic governor Roy Cooper had asked for the three Confederate monuments on the grounds of the Capitol to be moved to a nearby battlefield; a state historical panel voted in 2018 to keep the statues, but add context about slavery and civil rights. Statues in Winston-Salem and Chatham County were removed last year in rare moves.

Protesters gather around a Confederate monument in North Carolina's capital

But the state where the debate over Confederate monuments has perhaps attracted the most attention is Virginia, where a 2017 white nationalist rally over Charlottesville's proposed removal of such monuments turned deadly.

In the coastal city of Norfolk, protesters climbed a Confederate monument and spray-painted graffiti on its base, according to photos posted by a Virginian-Pilot journalist. Norfolk is among the Virginia cities that have signalled intent to remove their Confederate monuments. In February, state congress members approved legislation that would give cities autonomy to do so.

A commission in Richmond, the state capital and what was the capital of the Confederacy, recommended removing one of five Confederate statues along the city's famed Monument Avenue. Photos posted to social media late from Saturday to early Sunday showed the bases of at least two statues — those of Confederate generals Robert E Lee and Jeb Stuart — almost entirely covered in graffiti.

Nearby, a fire burned for a time at the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a group responsible for erecting many Confederate statues and fighting their removal. The building was also covered in graffiti, The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, protesters spray-painted a statue Saturday of Confederate Lieutenant General Alexander P Stewart on Saturday, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

In Nashville, Tennessee and in Philadelphia, statues of people criticised for racist views, but without Confederate ties, were also targeted.

Protesters in Nashville toppled a statue of Edward Carmack, a state congress member in the early 1900s and newspaper publisher who had racist views and wrote editorials lambasting the writings of prominent Tennessee civil rights journalist Ida Wells, The Tennessean reported.

Protesters sprayed graffiti on a statue of former Frank Rizzo, mayor of Philadelphia, tried to topple it and set a fire at its base. Mr Rizzo, mayor from 1972 to 1980, was praised by supporters as tough on crime but accused by critics of discriminating against people of colour. His 10-foot-tall bronze statue across from City Hall has been defaced before and is due to be moved next year.

Associated Press

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