While Southern politicians grapple with how to distance themselves from the the rebel battle flag and other pro-Confederacy monuments, some Black activists are taking a more militant stance. Activist Bree Newsome made national headlines when she climbed a flagpole and took down the Confederate flag at the South Carolina State Capitol. However, The Huffington Post reports Black Lives Matters activists have defaced other statues they believe support white supremacy.
“Someone threw red paint on a statue of Christopher Columbus in Boston on Wednesday and spray-painted it with the phrase ‘Black Lives Matter’ — the latest in a recent backlash against monuments that memorialize racist white men,” said HuffPo. “Memorials of the Confederate variety have been branded with the slogan in Baltimore; St. Louis; Durham, North Carolina; Charleston, South Carolina; Austin, Texas; Asheville, North Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia.”
Activists defaced “Silent Sam,” a monument dedicated to University of North Carolina (UNC) alumni who died fighting for the Confederacy. However, some UNC students were happy about the graffiti.
“As an African-American woman, who is a student here, that statue is the very statue that pretty much says I don’t belong here, that I shouldn’t be here,” UNC student Kirsten Adams told WTVD. “It is a relevant statue, and so it should be there. On the other hand, if we keep Silent Sam up, if we keep all these halls named after these racists, it’s like we’re celebrating the racism so you kind of have to draw a line somewhere.”
The battles over the stars and bars and Confederate monuments say a lot about America’s divided views on race. While Black people see them as symbols of hate and white supremacy, white Southerners insist they represent their cultural heritage. But white Southerners are ignoring the history of the symbols. According to The Huffington Post, the installation of the Silent Sam monument was racially heated when it was unveiled back in 1913.
“100 yards from where we stand, less than 90 days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a Negro wench, until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady,” industrialist Julian Carr said at the statue’s dedication in 1913, according to The Daily Tar Heel.
And while Southerners insist the stars and bars represents Southern pride, William T. Thompson, the flag’s designer, clearly stated it stood for white supremacy.
“As a people we are fighting to maintain the heavenly ordained supremacy of the white man over the inferior or colored race; a white flag would thus be emblematical of our cause. Such a flag would be a suitable emblem of our young confederacy, and sustained by the brave hearts and strong arms of the south, it would soon take rank among the proudest ensigns of the nations, and be hailed by the civilized world as THE WHITE MAN’S FLAG,” said Thompson in his paper The Daily Morning News.
Black activists pushing back against monuments to racist white men is not just a phenomenon confined to the United States. In April, CNN reported University of Cape Town students took to social media to demand the removal of a statue of British colonialist Cecil Rhodes, who founded Rhodesia, a country that was named after him. Rhodesia’s name was changed to Zimbabwe in 1980 after Black natives won a guerrilla war against a whites-only government. The Rhodes statue, which had been defaced with excrement, was later removed.
“He (Rhodes) represents the former colonial representation of this country — supremacy, racism, misogyny,” says Ramabina Mahapa, president of the students’ Representative Council, which led the fight to remove the statue. “Students are saying these aren’t the ideals that we want to have here. The statue represents what is wrong with society.”