When rioters tore through the U.S. Capitol last month, some of them gripping Confederate battle flags, they didn’t encounter a statue of the most famous rebel general, Robert E. Lee.
The Lee statue, which represented the state of Virginia as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection in the Capitol for 111 years, had been removed just weeks before — one of at least 160 public Confederate symbols taken down or moved from public spaces in 2020, according to a new count the Southern Poverty Law Center shared with The Associated Press ahead of releasing it.
The law center, which keeps a raw count of nearly 2,100 statues, symbols, placards, buildings and public parks dedicated to the Confederacy, plans to release the latest figures from its “Whose Heritage?” database on Tuesday. It has been tracking a movement to take down the monuments since 2015, when a white supremacist entered a South Carolina church and killed several Black parishioners.
Sometime after visitors and tourists are welcomed back to the U.S. Capitol, there will be a statue saluting Virginia’s Barbara Johns, a 16-year-old Black girl who staged a strike in 1951 over unequal conditions at her segregated high school in Farmville. Her actions led to court-ordered integration of public schools across the U.S, via the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.
Each state legislature can choose up to two representatives to honor in the Capitol’s collection. In December, a state commission recommended replacing Lee’s statue with a statue of Johns. The movement to remove these symbols from public spaces became part of the national reckoning on racial injustice following the May death of George Floyd, a Black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for several minutes. Although activists have called for lowering Confederate flags and taking down monuments for decades, a broader push was sparked after a white supremacist gunned down nine Black parishioners during a June 2015 Bible study meeting at Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Long seen as offensive to Black Americans, Lee’s Capitol statue wasn’t the only one representing a figure from the Lost Cause, a term referring to a belief that fighting on the side of slaveholders in the Civil War was just and heroic. Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederate States of America before becoming a U.S. senator from Mississippi, is one of two figures representing that state in the Capitol.