Answer: 54 percent of adults want to preserve Confederate monuments in the United States
A little under two years ago, a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia accelerated a sensitive debate in our country. The gathering was called Unite The Right and it took place from August 11th to August 12th, 2017. In a nutshell, white supremacists and alt-right “neo-confederates” marched and chanted racist and antisemitic slogans within the Charlottesville area. The organizers’ stated goals included unifying the American white nationalist movement and opposing the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from Charlottesville’s Lee Park. If we zoom out, the rally was set against a backdrop of the controversy generated by the removal of Confederate monuments throughout the country in response to the Charleston church shooting in 2015. The event turned violent after protesters clashed with counter-protesters, leaving more than 30 injured and one dead. Self-identified white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. deliberately rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters about 0.5 miles away from the rally site, killing Heather Heyer. For decades in the U.S., there have been isolated incidents of removal of Confederate monuments and memorials, but this rally, the death of Heather Heyer, and the following headlines really brought the debate to the forefront of America’s conscious.
Following the rally, from August 18-21 a poll by news agency Reuters together with research firm Ipsos found that most Americans want to keep such monuments: 54 percent of adults said the monuments “should remain in all public spaces” while 27 percent said they “should be removed from all public spaces.” The remaining 19 percent of respondents said they “didn’t know” when asked about the removal of Confederate monuments. Earlier in 2017, Confederate monuments in some cities had already been removed. For example, in New Orleans a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed in May. Lee’s was the last of four monuments to Confederate-era figures to be removed under a 2015 City Council vote. Soon after the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Baltimore removed all four of its Confederate statues in the middle of the night, in what was a stunningly quick move. The decision was also approved by the city council. Reuters noted that the poll was “sharply split along racial and party lines with whites and Republicans largely supportive of preservation. Democrats and minorities were more likely to support removal.” To this day it’s a topic that is vigorously debated from both sides of the aisle.
America’s Confederate past is still present in many parts of our country. As the Atlantic points out, “as of August 2016, there were still more than 1,500 public commemorations of the Confederacy, even excluding the battlefields and cemeteries: 718 monuments and statutes still stood, and 109 public schools, 80 counties and cities, and 10 U.S. military bases bore the names of Lee, Jefferson Davis, and other Confederate icons, according to a tally by the Southern Poverty Law Center. More than 200 of these were in Virginia alone.” While protesters continue to fight for Confederate statues and monuments to be removed, there are those – a majority, as mentioned above – who think they should stay, with “footnotes of epic proportions” as historian Julian Hayter noted. Maine Governor Paul LePage said that removing them would serve simply to whitewash history making the comparison to being “just like” removing monuments to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Whichever view you hold, this debate will continue to roil our country for many years to come and most likely surface when and if more catalysts like the one in Charlottesville happen again.