Charlottesville violence: Rise of racism in US politics has also raised the importance of symbols

The violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in the US shows us how significant symbols can be and either the rich or the ugly historical context they provide.

Many of the far-right supporters in Charlottesville brandished Confederate battle flags, considered a symbol of racism by many Americans, while others raised their arms in Nazi salutes. Anti-racism protesters waved flags from the Black Lives Matter movement, chanting slogans like "We say no to racist fear".

The statue of Robert E Lee in Charlottesville was the focus of an emotional debate in Virginia's Republican primary election weeks before it became a flashpoint in the nation's struggle over race.

 Charlottesville violence: Rise of racism in US politics has also raised the importance of symbols

Municipal workers attempt to remove paint from a monument dedicated to Confederate soldier John B Castleman that was vandalised in Kentucky. Reuters

Lee was the commander of the pro-slavery Confederate army in the American civil war. Earlier, when the Confederate flag was removed in 2014 from a chapel in Virginia where Lee is buried, it caused a backlash, The Washington Post had reported.

Now, after the violence in Charlottesville, state and city leaders across various US southern states said this week that they would step up efforts to remove such monuments from public spaces.

Maryland governor called for taking down a statehouse statue of US Supreme Court justice Roger B Taney, who wrote the 1857 Dred Scott decision affirming slavery and denying citizenship to African-Americans.

However, Democratic Senate president Thomas V Mike Miller had a different point of view. "As a student of history, I personally believe there is greater value in educating and providing context to Justice Taney and the inflammatory language of the Dred Scott decision rather than removing his statue from the State House grounds," The Baltimore Sun quoted him as saying.

But since Saturday's violence, mayors of Baltimore and Lexington, Kentucky, said they would push ahead with plans to remove statues, while officials in Dallas; Memphis, Tennessee; and Jacksonville, Florida; announced initiatives aimed at taking down Confederate monuments.

Demonstrators also toppled a statue of a Confederate soldier in North Carolina on Monday. A demonstrator could be seen climbing a ladder and looping a yellow strap around the statue, the Confederate Soldiers Monument, which was erected in 1924 to honour the southern dead in the 1861-1865 civil war.

The civil war involved 11 southern states that seceded from the Union, and most Confederate monuments are located in southern states.

The efforts by civil rights groups and others to do away with Confederate monuments gained momentum two years ago after avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof murdered nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. The shooting rampage ultimately led to the removal of a Confederate flag from the statehouse in Columbia.

After a 2015 City Council vote, four Confederate monuments were removed in New Orleans, according to ABCNews. The move was taken on the basis of a proposal by Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who had also referred to the Charleston shooting.

In May 2017, the word 'SHAME' had been spray-painted across a monument in Norfolk, Virginia.

In June 2017, a Confederate monument was removed in a park in St Louis, Missouri, after which the park became a site of protests.

As of April, at least 60 symbols of the Confederacy had been removed or renamed since 2015, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups. But such efforts have also made Confederate flags and memorials a rallying point for white supremacists and other extreme right groups.

Opponents of Confederate memorials view them as an affront to African-Americans and ideals of racial diversity and equality. Supporters argue they represent an important part of history, honouring those who fought and died for the rebellious Southern states in the Civil War. Carl Jones, chief of heritage operations for the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said he would continue to make the case that the monuments are items of historical value.

Across the country, 718 Confederate monuments and statues remain, with nearly 300 of them in Georgia, Virginia or North Carolina, according to the Southern Poverty Law Centre.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Aug 16, 2017 19:41:52 IST