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When rioters tore up the US Capitol last month, with some of them clutching Confederate battle flags, they didn’t come across a statue of the most famous rebel general, Robert E. Lee. The statue of Lee, which represented the state of Virginia as part of the National Statuary Hall Collection in the Capitol for 111 years, had been removed a few weeks earlier – one of at least 160 public. Confederate symbols removed or moved from public spaces in 2020, according to a new tally that the Southern Poverty Law Center shared with the Associated Press before releasing it.

The Montgomery, Alabama-based legal center, which maintains a gross tally of nearly 2,100 Confederation statues, symbols, signs, buildings and public parks, plans to release the latest figures for its “whose heritage?”. database Tuesday. He’s been tracking a movement to destroy monuments since 2015, when a white supremacist walked into a South Carolina church and killed several black parishioners.

At least 160 Confederate symbols removed or moved in 2020, according to Southern Poverty Law Center
In this July 7, 2020 file photo, crews attach straps to the statue of Confederate General JEB Stuart on Monument Avenue in Richmond, Virginia.

Steve Helber / AP

“These racist symbols only serve to support revisionist history and the belief that white supremacy remains morally acceptable,” SPLC Chief of Staff Lecia Brooks said in a statement. “This is why we believe all symbols of white supremacy should be removed from public spaces.”

Some time after visitors and tourists return to the U.S. Capitol, there will be a statue saluting Barbara Johns of Virginia, a 16-year-old black girl who staged a strike in 1951 over unequal conditions at her isolated high school in Farmville. His actions led to the court-ordered integration of public schools across the United States, via the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education.

Each state legislature can choose up to two representatives to be honored from the Capitol Collection. In December, a state commission recommended replacing the statue of Lee with a statue of Johns. Supporters told the PA that the Virginia legislature has almost finalized its rise alongside George Washington.

Joan Johns Cobbs, Barbara Johns’ younger sister, is thrilled with this honor to come. She is also happy that it didn’t happen until January 6, when the Capitol was violated.

“You can’t imagine how sad I saw what was going on in the Capitol building,” Cobbs said. “I was like, ‘Oh, my God. I’m pretty glad his statue isn’t here already. ‘ I wondered what would have happened. “

Long considered offensive to black Americans, Lee’s Capitol Statue was not the only one to depict a figure of the lost cause, a term referring to the belief that fighting alongside slavers during the Civil War was right. 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.

SPLC says there are still 704 Confederate monuments in the United States and removing some of them can be difficult, especially in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – states where lawmakers have adopted policies protecting these monuments.

The movement to remove these symbols from public spaces has become part of the national calculation of racial injustice following the May death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white Minneapolis officer stuck his knee in the neck for several minutes. Although activists have called for decades to lower Confederate flags and destroy monuments, a wider push was sparked after a white supremacist shot dead nine black parishioners at a Bible study meeting in June 2015 at the 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,” Brooks of the SPLC said in its statement.

That’s why Johns ‘honor couldn’t come at a better time, said Cameron Patterson, executive director of the Robert Russa Moton Museum, a keeper of Johns’ legacy.

Johns moved from New York to live with his grandmother in Prince Edward County, Virginia during World War II. She attended Moton High School in Farmville where, according to her memoir, the separate school had poor facilities, lacked science labs, and had no gymnasium.

On April 23, 1951, at the age of 16, Johns led his classmates in a strike against the unsanitary conditions at Moton High, drawing the attention of the civil rights lawyers of the NAACP. Lawyers filed a federal case that became one of five cases considered by the United States Supreme Court in the Brown decision. In 1954, the High Court declared segregation unconstitutional.

This year will mark the 70th anniversary of the Johns protest. She died in 1991, aged 56.

“You really recognize that its inclusion in the Statuary Hall collection will really be a great opportunity for people to better understand the history of Moton in its entirety,” said Patterson. “So not only do they get to know Barbara and who she was, but they learn more about her classmates. They learn those who continue to work in this community, in regards to the struggle for educational equality.”

Cobbs, Johns’ sister, agreed.

“I hope the young people see something in it that they can emulate,” she said. “Being so young, seeing an injustice and deciding to do something about it is pretty remarkable.


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