NEW YORK (AP) – When rioters rampaged through the U.S. Capitol last month, some of them clutching Confederate battle flags, they found no statue of the most famous rebel general, Robert E. Lee.
Lee’s statue, which represented the state of Virginia as part of the Capitol’s National Statues Collection for 111 years, had been removed just weeks earlier, one of at least 160 public Confederate symbols removed or moved from public spaces in 2020. according to a new account the Southern Poverty Law Center shared with The Associated Press before publishing it.
The Montgomery, Alabama-based law center, which maintains a raw count of nearly 2,100 statues, symbols, posters, buildings and public parks dedicated to the Confederacy, plans to release the latest figures for its “Whose Heritage?” database on Tuesday. He has been following a movement to tear down the monuments since 2015, when a white supremacist entered a South Carolina church and killed several black parishioners.
“These racist symbols only serve to defend revisionist history and the belief that white supremacy remains morally acceptable,” SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks said in a statement. “That is why we believe that all symbols of white supremacy should be removed from public spaces.”
At some point after visitors and tourists are welcomed to the US Capitol, there will be a statue honoring Barbara Johns of Virginia, a 16-year-old black girl who staged a strike in 1951 over unequal conditions at her Segregated High School in Farmville. His actions led to the court-ordered integration of public schools in the United States, through the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.
Each state legislature may elect up to two representatives to honor in the Capitol collection. In December, a state commission recommended replacing the Lee statue with a Johns statue. Supporters told the AP that the Virginia legislature has almost finished its ascent alongside George Washington.
Joan Johns Cobbs, Barbara Johns’ younger sister, is delighted with the upcoming honor. He’s also happy that it didn’t happen before January 6, when the Capitol was breached.
“You can’t imagine how sad I was to see what was happening in the Capitol building,” Cobbs said. “I kept saying to myself, ‘My God. I am a little glad that his statue was no longer there. I was wondering what had happened. “
Long considered offensive to African-Americans, Lee’s Capitol statue was not the only one depicting a Lost Cause figure, a term that refers to the belief that fighting on the side of the slaveholders in the Civil War was fair and heroic. Jefferson Davis, who served as president of the Confederate States of America before becoming a United States Senator from Mississippi, is one of two figures representing that state on Capitol Hill.
The SPLC says there are still 704 Confederate monuments standing in the U.S. And tearing down some of them can be difficult, particularly in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee, states where lawmakers have enacted policies that protect these monuments.
The movement to remove these symbols from public spaces became part of the national reckoning over racial injustice following the death in May of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer pressed his knee against your neck for several minutes. Although activists have called for Confederate flags to be lowered and monuments pulled down for decades, a broader momentum was unleashed after a white supremacist shot and killed nine black parishioners during a June 2015 Bible study meeting in La Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Exposing children to anything that falsely promotes the idea of white superiority and black inferiority is dehumanizing,” the SPLC’s Brooks said in his statement.
That’s why the honor for Johns couldn’t come at a better time, said Cameron Patterson, executive director of the Robert Russa Moton Museum, a caretaker of the Johns legacy.
Johns moved from New York City to live with his grandmother in Prince Edward County of Virginia during World War II. He attended Moton High School in Farmville, where, according to his memoirs, the segregated school had poor facilities, lacked science labs, and had no gym.
On April 23, 1951, at age 16, Johns led his classmates on a strike against poor conditions at Moton High, drawing the attention of the NAACP’s civil rights attorneys. The attorneys presented a federal case that became one of five that the United States Supreme Court reviewed in Brown’s decision. In 1954, the high court declared segregation unconstitutional.
This year will mark the 70th anniversary since the Johns protest. He died in 1991, at the age of 56.
“There is real recognition that its inclusion in the Statuary Hall collection will really be a great opportunity for people to come to better understand the history of Moton as a whole,” said Patterson. “So they’re not just learning about Barbara and who she was, they’re learning about their classmates. They are learning about those who continue to work in this community, when it comes to the fight for educational equality ”.
Johns’ sister Cobbs agreed.
“I hope young people see it as something they can emulate,” he said. “Being so young, seeing an injustice and deciding to do something about it is quite remarkable.”
Morrison is a member of the AP Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/aaronlmorrison.