Where Do Confederate Flags and Monuments Go Once They’re Removed?
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Where Do Confederate Flags and Monuments Go Once They’re Removed?

Were they cast out or raised up?

The bust of the first-ever Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard, Nathan Bedford Forrest, was removed from its place of honor inside the Tennessee State Capitol on July 23, 2021. Four days later, it popped up in a newly constructed exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum, where it arguably will be seen by more people.

The monument has been controversial since it was placed there in 1978, over a hundred years after the end of the Civil War. Major protests followed the installation of the bust from the moment it was placed, but the Sons of Confederate Veterans had more pull than the Black citizens of Tennessee. In 1979, the Black Tennesseans for Action were unsuccessful in getting a meeting about the bust with Governor Lamar Alexander. Later that month, the monument was damaged after being struck in the head. The Ku Klux Klan responded by burning two crosses in Nashville, one in front of the local NAACP headquarters. In October of 1980, Tex Moore, grand dragon of the Tennessee chapter of the Invisible Empire, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and others held a news conference in front of the bust.

In 2015, after Dylann Roof killed nine people at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, SC. Two Democrats proposed the removal of the bust and got tentative agreement from Republican Governor Bill Haslam and Senator Bob Corker, but its removal was postponed.

In 2017, after the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, erupted in violence. Governor Bill Haslam explicitly called for removing the Nathan Bedford Forrest bust from the Tennessee state capitol building. At the same time, U.S. Senator Bob Corker suggested it should be relocated for public display at the Tennessee State Museum. The Capitol Commission overseeing the Forrest bust declined to remove the figure. Governor Haslam said that he was “very disappointed” with this decision.

Related: The Battle to Defeat Robert E. Lee In a Kentucky Town

In 2019, a group of Tennessee college students, including Justin Jones of Fisk University, led vocal protests, and Jones and another student were ultimately arrested. Long before Justin Jones became an elected member of the Tennessee House of Representatives and was temporarily ousted by House Speaker Cameron Sexton. Sexton tried unsuccessfully to keep Jones under his thumb.

There’s an ongoing fight over the current location of the bust. Members of the Forrest family want the bust moved to a Maury County site where the remains of Nathan Bedford Forrest and his wife are. They had been interred in Memphis until they were unceremoniously removed.

The South Carolina Statehouse Confederate Flag

On July 10, 2015, South Carolina permanently took down the Confederate flag it had proudly flown since 1961. The flag was not destroyed but moved to a nearby Confederate Museum. It will become a part of the South Carolina Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum collection.

Like most removals of monuments to the Confederacy, it was prompted by the bodies of Black people, in this case, the mass shooting by white supremacist Dylann Roof at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church. A pivotal moment came ten days after the shooting when activist Bree Newsome climbed the thirty-foot flagpole and took down the flag in full view of reporters, protesters, and South Carolina state troopers. Newsome was immediately arrested, and the flag went right back up, but the nation had seen what she’d done, and the permanent removal of the flag became inevitable.

It’s important to remember why the Confederate flag was flying at the statehouse to begin with. It flew as an affront to desegregation and the civil rights movement, the white response to “We Shall Not Be Moved.”

“The Confederate flag symbolizes more than the Civil War and the slavery era," said James Forman, Jr-Professor, Yale Law School. "The flag has been adopted knowingly and consciously by government officials seeking to assert their commitment to black subordination.”

Related: All I Have is Rage

The Confederate flag in South Carolina was not removed, as in out of existence. It was moved to another prominent place where it can still be revered as a symbol of what once was. It took the blood of nine Black citizens, including a pastor and a South Carolina State Senator, to get that much done. When will these things ever happen because they were the right thing to do?

The Elephant’s Graveyard of Confederate Statues

A Richmond, VA, street was once lined with Confederate statues that came down after nationwide protests following the murder of George Floyd. Ownership of the statues was transferred to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, which no doubt has many turning over in their graves. The statutes were disassembled and taken to a secret location to avoid desecration. Black people will ultimately decide what happens to these monuments to white supremacy.

After getting a call from Governor Ralph Northam, black contractor Devon Henry was hired to remove the statues. Northam didn’t tell him two dozen companies had previously turned down the job.

I had to think about it a lot, above all, because of my family, because of the violence and hatred that sparked the controversy with the statues," said Henry. "In the end, I made up my mind: if we didn’t do it now — if I didn’t do it — perhaps what we descendants of enslaved people have been chasing for decades would never come. Every time we removed one statue, the calls and messages on the answering machine rained down with threats like: ‘Hello, we’re from the Ku Klux Klan; you knocked down our memories, now it’s our turn to go after you and yours.’”

Related: The White Supremacy Playbook Has Been Updated

Although a small percentage of people glorify Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, there have yet to be statues erected in his honor. There are no statues of Hitler in Germany. Even Harlan Crow’s “Garden of Evil” doesn’t include those who fought against their own country.

Only in America, with its Lost Cause movement, do we seek to preserve and honor the losers. We pass laws preventing the removal of monuments and statues honoring figures who fought to preserve enslavement and founded the Ku Klux Klan.

A small percentage of Confederate statues were destroyed. A Charlottesville, VA, statue of Robert E. Lee was melted down, though six groups sought in court to preserve it. Besides those awaiting final judgment in a Richmond hideout, most statues and monuments found better homes and the protection of state legislators. The lost cause is alive and well, relabeling hate as heritage. Most of the removals act under the pretense of progress while continuing to promote the white supremacy always intended.

This post originally appeared on Medium and is edited and republished with author's permission. Read more of William Spivey's work on Medium. And if you dig his words, buy the man a coffee.