Removal of public Confederate symbols increased in 2020, SPLC reports
The Montgomery-based Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a report last week updating its 2020 year-end Whose Heritage? report data and map. The WhoseHeritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy initiative began in response to the 2015 white supremacist terrorist attack that killed nine Black churchgoers at Mother Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina. In the aftermath of the attack, the program was launched as a means of officially identifying and tracking all public Confederate symbols across the United States.
In the updated release, the SPLC underscores the growing change in public sentiment toward Confederate symbols and monuments. For 2020, the report cites the removal of 168 Confederate monuments or symbols. The recent update by the social justice organization also highlighted the following statistics:
Ninety-four (94) of those  symbols were Confederate monuments. Comparatively, 58 Confederate monuments were removed between 2015 and 2019.
By the end of 2020, Virginia remained the leader in removing Confederate symbols (71) followed by North Carolina (24). Alabama (12) and Texas (12) tied for third place.
At least 167 Confederate symbols were removed after George Floyd’s death on May 25, including one symbol in Arizona that was stolen from public property. Only one symbol was removed prior to George Floyd’s death when Virginia replaced Lee-Jackson Day with Election Day in April.
Among the main findings in the new release was the influence of the South Carolina terrorist attack in accelerating the removal or relocation of Confederate symbols across several states, except South Carolina.
"While a total of 312 Confederate symbols have been removed or relocated from public spaces following the Charleston church shooting, South Carolina’s Heritage Act ensured that no symbols were removed last year despite efforts led by grassroots groups," read an official SPLC statement announcing the Whose Heritage? update.
In early February, Alabama,—the nation's third ranking remover of Confederate monuments—received a challenge to its 2017 Memorial Preservation Act, which prohibits the removal of public monuments that have been in place for 40 years or more.
Alabama House Bill 8, sponsored by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, would authorize local governments to remove any monument located within that government's jurisdiction. Givan's bill would also repeal the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act.
The state's House Judiciary Committee members balked on favorably passing the bill and instead moved the legislation to subcommittee, a tactic legislators often use to passive-aggressively reject proposed bills. Alabama is home to at least 122 public Confederate monuments.
Nationwide, the report has identified more than 2,100 public Confederate symbols—704 of those symbols are monuments. These numbers include "government buildings, Confederate monuments and statues, plaques, markers, schools, parks, counties, cities, military property and streets and highways named after anyone associated with the Confederacy."
SPLC's map of Confederate symbol locations across the United States
The report also lists each of the 168 Confederate symbols that have been removed over the last year.
In the announcement detailing the Whose Heritage? 2020 year-end update, SPLC Chief of Staff, Lecia Brooks did not mince words when offering her view of America's complicated past, present, and future regarding racism and pro-Confederate sentiment.
“2020 was a transformative year for the Confederate symbols movement. Over the course of seven months, more symbols of hate were removed from public property than in the preceding four years combined.
“Despite this progress, communities informed the SPLC about more than 300 Confederate symbols located across the United States that remain. Many were located in the South, specifically Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, where preservation laws prohibit communities from making their own decisions about what they want to see in their public spaces. These dehumanizing symbols of pain and oppression continue to serve as backdrops to important government buildings, halls of justice, public parks, and U.S. military properties, including ten bases named after Confederate leaders across the South.
“We must recognize states like Virginia who not only had the courage to discontinue its preservation law, but also led by example after removing 71 Confederate symbols from their public spaces in 2020. Name changes are pending for 31 public schools across the country in 2021, ensuring that students will no longer be forced to learn in schools bearing racist namesakes.
“As witnessed on Jan. 6 when an insurrectionist brazenly carried a Confederate flag through the halls of the U.S. Capitol, Confederate symbols are a form of systemic racism used to intimidate, instill fear, and remind Black people that they have no place in American society. The SPLC firmly believes that all symbols of white supremacy should be removed from public spaces and will continue to support community efforts to remove, rename and relocate them.”