In the South they are almost everywhere, from cemeteries to roadsides to town squares. They pop up in surprising places elsewhere, too — as far west as California and as far north (until recently) as Washington State.
They are statues, memories and historic markers dedicated to the Confederacy, its leaders and the common men who fought and died for it.
Now many of them are coming down, and there is a clamor for the rest to join them.
This is all an outgrowth of the protests that have broken out across the country — and across the world — following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer.
This was it seems inevitable, especially given the wave of Confederate symbol removals that followed the 2015 mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, in which a white supremacist barely out of his teens opened fire in an African American church and killed nine people.
Afterward, the Confederate battle flag finally came down from atop the South Carolina state capital. Then Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley had the Confederate flags surrounding a memorial on the state Capitol grounds removed, and the city of Birmingham began looking at removing a monument to Confederate Soldiers and Sailors erected in 1905.
For every action, there is a reaction, so the Alabama Legislature responded to this by passing the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act of 2017, which requires cities and counties to obtain state permission before removing or altering any monument more than 40 years old. The law carried a $25,000 fine.
While the law is not limited to Confederate monuments, protecting them was its obvious goal, and the law kicked off a legal battle between Birmingham and the state. The all-Republican Alabama Supreme Court upheld the law unanimously.
Following Floyd’s death and demonstrations that have focused on the deaths of other African Americans at the hands of law enforcement, Birmingham decided to remove the monument anyway. Alabama’s attorney general has said he will sue the city, which has simply led to citizens raising money to pay the fine.
Other cities and counties, including Florence, are now considering the same route, fine or no fine. Clearly the time to act is now, before the state Legislature comes back into session and raises the fine or enacts other penalties.
This is how the fate of Confederate monuments — or all monuments — should be decided: by the democratically elected governing bodies of the cities and counties where these monuments stand. Grandstanding state lawmakers should not force communities to keep monuments they no longer want, for causes in which their residents do not believe, nor should the fate of these monuments be left to protesters.
America has to come to terms with its past. Some monuments should stay, but others must go. Some can be retired to museums. Perhaps the U.S. can have a museum of toppled statues, like the one in Hungary filled with the symbols of Soviet occupation.
But the process should be democratic and local, reflecting the values of those most directly involved. That would be a testament to how much the nation has progressed since the 19th century, even if we still have a way to go.
An editorial from Florence Times Daily, Alabama.