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Protests Are Bringing Down Confederate Monuments Around The South

A crew plans the operation to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave. in Richmond, Va. (Steve Helber/AP)
A crew plans the operation to remove the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee on Monument Ave. in Richmond, Va. (Steve Helber/AP)

Updated at 11:17 p.m. ET

New attention from people protesting police brutality and racial injustice is changing the way cities and campuses in the American South regard symbols of white supremacy. On Monday, Alabama's flagship state university took down memorials to Confederate soldiers. The University of Alabama removed plaques honoring students who served in the Confederate Army and student cadet corps.

The panels had been displayed on and in front of the Gorgas library on the Quad, a large green space in the middle of the Tuscaloosa campus and popular gathering place. Now school officials say they "will be placed at a more appropriate historical setting," according to a statement from the University of Alabama System. And trustees say they will review the names of campus buildings.

On Sunday, the Student Government Association called for change, tweeting that student leaders had been in talks with school officials to "begin the work of changing the names of campus buildings with racist namesakes."

Removal of the Confederate plaques comes on a campus that was once at the center of the nation's battle over integration, and just days from the June 11th anniversary of former segregationist Gov. George Wallace's infamous "stand in the schoolhouse door," a symbolic attempt to block black students from enrolling at the University of Alabama in 1963.

Activists at rival Auburn University are also seeking changes to buildings that are named after "men and women who actively sought to uphold white supremacy."

Earlier, two of Alabama's largest cities – Birmingham and Mobile – took down Confederate monuments that were focal points for civil unrest. Violating a state law intended to protect such memorials, Birmingham dismantled a massive obelisk dedicated to Confederate soldiers and sailors in a downtown park. Mobile took down a statue of a Confederate naval officer that had been vandalized. Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said on Twitter the move was not an attempt to rewrite history but intended to remove "a potential distraction" to focus on the future of the Gulf coast city.

In Virginia, the state started work to remove a huge statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee in Richmond, the state capital. And city leaders say they want to take down another four Confederate memorials along Monument Ave.

On Monday a judge issued an order delaying the Lee statue's removal for 10 days in response to a lawsuit seeking to preserve the monument.

A slave auction block was removed from downtown Fredericksburg, Va.

Pressure is also mounting in Mississippi over the state flag. Adopted in 1894, the design incorporates the Confederate battle flag – a red background with a blue X lined with white stars. In 2001, Mississippi voted to keep it. Now Republican Gov. Tate Reeves says it's not up to elected leaders to change it.

"It should be the people who make that decision not some backroom deal by a bunch of politicians in Jackson," Reeves said Monday when pressed by reporters whether he thought the flag was an accurate representation of modern-day Mississippi, a state with a 38% African-American population.

The Marine Corps recently banned displays of the Confederate flag, with an exception for Mississippi's flag.

The last time the country saw a purge of relics of the Old South was in the aftermath of the Emanuel AME Church massacre in Charleston in 2015. A self-avowed white supremacist, Dylann Roof, killed 9 worshippers at the historic African-American church. Before the slayings, he had posed for pictures with a gun and a Confederate battle flag.

Copyright NPR 2020.

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