As residents in more than 40 cities have taken to the streets over the last week to engage in both peaceful and destructive protests over the police killing of George Floyd, some have turned their focus on one particular historical wound: Confederate monuments.
Monday evening, in three Southern states—Florida, Alabama, and Virginia—protesters toppled graffiti-covered statues celebrating the former Confederate government that fought to uphold the institution of slavery, as crowds cheered.
“With the recent death of many of those across this nation, we say enough is enough. We are done dying, and we’re done being reminded,” William Barnes, president of the Birmingham Urban League, said in a statement calling for an Alabama monument’s removal. “We’re done being reminded of the atrocities against African Americans.”
On Monday night, a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee was toppled from its pedestal in front of his namesake high school in Montgomery, Alabama. As the figure fell, a small crowd cheered and honked before briefly singing: “Hey, he-ey, goodbye.”
The Montgomery Police Department said multiple people had been arrested in the incident, which occurred on a state holiday commemorating President of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis, but declined to provide any additional details. The Monday holiday is one of three in Alabama that celebrate the Confederacy.
“The statue was damaged and there are suspects in custody. Charges are pending,” Montgomery Police Captain Saba Coleman said.
In Birmingham, demonstrators attempted to take down a Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument on Sunday evening—a 115-year-old statue that has been at the center of a legal fight between the city and the state attorney general’s office.
“It used to be a sore. It’s cancer. It’s eating away at the community,” Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson said Monday during a press conference demanding its removal, adding that it represented hundreds of years of torment. “We cannot grow, we cannot expand with this monster wings over us, choking us, and it’s got to leave.”
While protesters were unsuccessful in toppling the 52-foot-tall statue, some residents tore down the monument of Charles Linn, one of Birmingham’s founders and a former Confederate Navy officer, that was also in the park. Two other statues on either side of the Confederate memorial—the Spirit of the American Doughboy and the memorial to Spanish American War Veterans—were also defaced with graffiti.
At around 9 p.m. on Monday, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin stepped in to finish the job protesters started, vowing to remove the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors monument that has stood in Linn Park since 1905.
“In order to prevent more civil unrest, it is very imperative that we remove this statue,” Woodfin told the Birmingham News. As of Monday evening, demolition crews had already started to dismantle the monument.
In Florida, a bust of Lee that sat on a pedestal in downtown Fort Myers was removed at the request of Sons of Confederate Veterans, according to the Orlando Sentinel. On Monday evening, protesters were seen surrounding the pedestal—that did not include the bust of the Civil War general—during a protest for Floyd.
The United Daughters of the Confederacy also took preemptive measures in Alexandria, Virginia, on Tuesday morning, removing the Appomattox statue that has stood in the middle of Old Town since 1889. The bronze statue, which commemorated Confederate soldiers from the area, has been relocated to an undisclosed location amid the ongoing protests and the statue’s pillar will also be removed to avoid any damage.
“Alexandria, like all great cities, is constantly changing and evolving,” Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson said on Twitter Tuesday.
Wilson later told Washingtonian magazine the city has been in discussions with the United Daughters of the Confederacy for some time about removing the statue, but decided to accelerate the process on Monday evening to “ensure there was no drama about it. We did not want to see a repeat of Charlottesville or anything else.”
The United Daughters of the Confederacy did not immediately return The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
The push toward eradicating old tributes to the Confederacy has sped up over the last week in several other states. In Richmond, a Robert E. Lee memorial was covered in graffiti Saturday night—as was a Stonewall Jackson statue. Several miles away, the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was similarly vandalized with the phrases “police are creepy” and fuck racists” before it was set on fire, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
The Confederate Defenders statue in Charleston, South Carolina, was also spray painted, the Post and Courier reported. And in North Carolina, a crowd set fire to the Market House in Fayetteville. The National Historic Landmark constructed in 1832 was used as a town hall and a slave market.
The protests raging across the nation all center around George Floyd, who died May 25 after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee to the 46-year-old’s neck for more than eight minutes.
While the county autopsy reports that Floyd died of cardiac arrest and had underlying health issues, an independent report commissioned by his family states that the 46-year-old was in good health and died of strangulation from pressure to his back and neck.
After a national outcry, the four officers involved in the incident were fired and Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Protesters are now demanding the other three officers be charged for what some are calling a “legalized lynching.”