Nkyinkyim, by Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. American communities feature more than 1800 Confederate memorials and monuments, but very few sites acknowledge the trauma of enslavement and racial violence. (Ricky Carioti/Washington Post via Getty Images)

History of Racial Injustice: Confederate Iconography

Monuments and memorials throughout the country honor Confederate leaders and soldiers who fought to secede from the Union. Though the Confederacy was defeated in 1865, many prominent memorials were dedicated generations later, sometimes with express opposition to racial equality.

EJI has documented 1838 Confederate monuments nationwide, including dozens in the North and West. Most remain in prominent, public locations like town squares, courthouse lawns, and state capitols. Scores of Confederate monuments installed at the turn of the 20th century attempted to recast Confederate secession as a defense of liberty rather than an effort to preserve slavery and white supremacy. By 1950, the South had more than 1000 Confederate monuments, including at least one at every state capitol and 300 on courthouse grounds.

In 1955, one year after Brown v. Board of Education ordered an end to school segregation, Robert E. Lee High School in Montgomery, Alabama, erected a bronze statue of the Confederate general at its entrance. Texas installed 27 Confederate monuments in the 1960s. In 1964 alone, 16 different monuments were erected across the South. As civil rights activists bravely agitated for change, segregationists opposed to racial equality adopted the Confederate battle flag as a symbol of defiant resistance to racial integration.

Today, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia have passed “heritage” laws to prevent removal of Confederate monuments. Nearly all of these monuments stand in communities with no public memorial to the history of slavery and lynching or any public acknowledgment of what Confederate ideals meant for millions of disenfranchised black people.