The history behind Confederate monuments and the symbolism they carry

Posted at 4:54 PM, Jul 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-10 18:31:36-04

HAMPTON ROADS, Va.— Cities in Hampton Roads and around the country are being forced to decide what to do about polarizing Confederate monuments. But why now?

“We have large numbers of young people with very different views about race relations and these monuments, and many of them are probably out of work. They're not going to school. They have the time to mobilize and to be on the streets,” says Gregg Kimball, who works for the Library of Virginia.

Kimball is also the former co-chair of the Monument Avenue Commission in Richmond— a city whose mayor ordered all city-owned Confederate statues cleared away amid weeks of protests over police brutality and racism this week.

“A monument in a place of honor in your city is different than a monument in a museum where it's being interpreted, and when we put something like that in our basically front yard, we're saying something about our community.”

Kimball says Confederate monuments were privately and publicly funded when Civil War veterans started dying around 1890-1920. During this same time, a new regime of white supremacy was taking shape.

Related: Council votes to use $250K to remove Portsmouth Confederate monument

“The state constitution of Virginia [in] 1902 gets rewritten and basically disenfranchises— takes away the vote from African American men and imposes Jim Crow restrictions,” says Kimball. He went on to say, “It’s really clear that African Americans perceive these monuments at the time as very much being a proclamation that basically white supremacy is back and stronger than ever.”

Kimball doesn’t mind monuments coming down but believes it’s up to the community to decide what they want to value and represent them.

“I work in a library with literally hundreds of thousands of pieces of paper that describe all of the circumstances and what people said and what people did during this period. I mean, that's not going away.”

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