Protesters Target Statues Linked to Slavery

    11 June 2020

    The death of African American George Floyd while being arrested by four Minneapolis police officers set off protests and some violence across the United States. Some protesters have now turned to bringing down symbols of the Confederacy and slavery.

    On Wednesday night, protesters brought down a statue of Confederate President Jefferson Davis in Richmond, Virginia. About 130 kilometers away in Portsmouth, Virginia, another group of protesters pulled down four statues that were part of a Confederate monument. A day earlier, protesters in Richmond tore down a statue of Christopher Columbus, set it on fire and threw it into a lake.

    Around the world, protesters wanted to bring down monuments to people linked to slavery and colonialism. They include Christopher Columbus, Cecil Rhodes and Belgium's King Leopold II.

    Gabriel Black Elk, who is Lakota, kneels on the neck of a fallen statue of Christopher Columbus and holds an American flag with the names of Native Americans killed by police, at the Minnesota state Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., June 10, 2020. (Evan Frost)
    Gabriel Black Elk, who is Lakota, kneels on the neck of a fallen statue of Christopher Columbus and holds an American flag with the names of Native Americans killed by police, at the Minnesota state Capitol in St. Paul, Minn., June 10, 2020. (Evan Frost)

    Confederate symbols

    Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. It is where Jefferson Davis led 11 southern, slave-holding states against the north during the American Civil War. After four years of bitter fighting, the Confederate states surrendered and re-joined the union. The United States approved an amendment to the Constitution in 1865 that legally ended slavery across the country.

    City leaders were planning to remove the bronze statue of Davis in a few weeks. But demonstrators chose to bring it down Wednesday night. A crowd cheered and police looked on. There were no immediate reports of any arrests.

    The Davis statue was not far away from a much larger monument of General Robert E. Lee, the military leader of the Confederates. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, last week ordered its removal, but a judge on Monday blocked any action for at least 10 days.

    Confederate statues and monuments like those of Davis' and Lee's were not built immediately after the Civil War. Many were built at the turn of the 20th century and in the 1950s. The Southern Poverty Law Center listed over 700 such monuments across 31 states.

    People who want Confederate monuments to remain have argued that they are important reminders of history. A spokesman for the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Virginia called the statues "public works of art" and likened losing the Confederate statues to losing a family member.

    B. Frank Earnest said, "The men who served under Robert E. Lee were my great-grandfathers or their brothers and their cousins. So it is my family."

    NASCAR banning Confederate flags

    Davis' statue was brought down on the same day NASCAR, a car racing organization, banned Confederate flags at its races. The flag was a common sight at the races where fans young and old proudly displayed them.

    Bubba Wallace, the only African American driver in NASCAR brought attention to the issue this week. He called for the ban saying, there was "no place" for the flag in the sport.

    NASCAR said, "Bringing people together around a love for racing and the community that it creates is what makes our fans and sport special. The display of the Confederate flag will be prohibited from all NASCAR events and properties."

    The decision brought protests from Ray Ciccarelli, who wrote on Facebook: "I could care less about the Confederate Flag but there are ppl [people] that do and it doesn't make them a racist."

    More politics

    In Washington, DC, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi demanded Wednesday that statues of Confederate officials such as Jefferson Davis be removed from the U.S. Capitol.

    Pelosi, a leader in the Democratic Party, cannot order the removal of the 11 statues. She is urging the Joint Committee on the Library to vote to remove them. The Republican-controlled Senate also have a say in the matter.

    Meanwhile, President Donald Trump announced that his administration will "not even consider" changing the name of any of the 10 Army bases named after Confederate Army officers.

    Two days earlier, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that he was open to a discussion of such changes. The bases are named for Confederate Army officers, including Robert E. Lee and Henry L. Benning. The naming was done mostly after World War I and in the 1940s.

    Trump wrote, "These Monumental and very Powerful Bases have become part of a Great American Heritage, a history of Winning, Victory, and Freedom."

    I'm Jonathan Evans.

    Hai Do wrote this story for VOA Learning English based on Associated Press reports. Mario Ritter Jr. was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    symbol –n. an object, action or figure that represents an idea

    monument - n. a building, statue, etc., that honors a person or event

    bronze - n. a metal that is made by combining copper and tin

    bitter - adj. causing painful emotions

    prohibit - v. to order (someone) not to use or do something

    display - v. to put (something) where people can see it