A report released Tuesday found that 168 Confederate symbols were removed across the United States in 2020, virtually all of them following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. Only one of the symbols was removed prior to Floyd’s death, when Virginia renamed Lee-Jackson Day in April as Election Day.
The figures are an update to the 2019 Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy, an annual survey conducted by the Montgomery, Ala.-based Southern Poverty Law Center. The full 2020 survey will be released later this year.
The SPLC said 94 of the Confederate symbols removed in 2020 were monuments, compared to 54 monuments removed between 2015 and 2019. The SPLC found 2,100 public Confederate symbols remain, 704 of them monuments.
The SPLC began tracking the number of Confederate symbols in 2015. That year, a white supremacist fatally shot nine Black worshippers at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. The shooter, Dylann Roof, has since been found guilty on 33 counts of federal hate crimes and sentenced to death.
The massacre sparked discussion and, in some cases, reconsideration of Confederate flags and symbols across the South, starting with South Carolina lawmakers voting to remove the flag from statehouse grounds. Communities increasingly looked beyond flags, the SPLC said, to reexamine statues, monuments, city seals, street names and even state holidays.
A renewed push to remove Confederate monuments came in 2017, after the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a speeding car plowed through a crowd of counterprotesters.
Critics argue that removing or renaming tributes to Confederate figures amounts to erasing history, the SPLC points out. But many historians — and public opinion polling — reject this concept, saying it’s time for the symbols to go, and possible to engage with this period of history in other ways.
More recently, the nationwide reckoning with racism and police brutality, sparked by Floyd’s killing in May, prompted waves of protests across the country over the summer and a push to reexamine the legacy of racial injustice in the United States. Dozens of Confederate monuments were removed or replaced in the weeks and months that followed, either by local decrees or forceful protesters.
Still, many remain standing. An NPR investigation found that while some 60 Confederate monuments came down across the U.S. between May and October, localities moved to protect 28 of them during that same period, from Delaware to Florida to Arizona.
Virginia’s statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was removed from the U.S. Capitol in late December after more than 100 years, to be replaced by a statue honoring civil rights activist Barbara Johns. Lee’s statue was not present weeks later when a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the building, some individuals carrying Confederate flags.