Virginia

By Benjamin Roy ’21

Introduction

In 2017, Heather Heyer was killed protesting a statue of General Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville, Virginia. Her death propelled the Old Dominion to the fore in debates about Confederate monuments (Romo 2019). After the death of George Floyd in 2020, Virginia once again became the center of a firestorm of controversy and protest centering on Richmond, specifically: the state capital’s famous Monument avenue. Confederate monuments, especially ones in Virginia, have often dominated the national political and cultural discourse, from their first construction immediately after the Civil War, to the present. The debate has generally raged around two assertions and their contestation. First, that the monuments were erected as assertions of white supremacy related to the historical context; either in the late nineteenth century as part of an effort to assert white supremacy in public spaces through celebrations of the Confederacy and legal segregation; or in response to the long Civil Rights movement and in support of the Jim Crow social order, and thus are fundamentally symbols of white supremacy and oppression. Second, controversy has swirled around the memorialization of elite Confederates like Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, questioning whether those who committed treason against the United States and were slaveholders deserve monuments, and if their legacy is consistent with modern principles of patriotism, equality and racial equity.

The objective of this report is to interrogate these points of contention using maps and historical sources. The objective is not to unequivocally answer these points or advance an argument about their nature, but rather to provide new data and historical context to the debate. The first goal of this report is to map when and where Confederate monuments were erected in Virginia, from the end of the Civil War to the present (spring 2019). The second goal of this study is to understand whether monuments to specific individuals or memorials with no specific honoree are more common in Virginia, and if there is any regional variation. This study is strictly interested in monuments, memorials, and statuary, and does not map buildings, roads, or natural features named after Confederate soldiers and statesmen, thereby addressing the controversy more directly.

Map 1, Specific Honoree vs Nonspecific Honoree (2019)

Results 

Most Confederate monuments in Virginia were erected between 1900 and 1920 and have no specific honoree. There are 110 monuments with no specific honoree, and only 25 dedicated to specific individuals (Map 1). Confederate monuments dedicated to specific leaders tend to be focused in urban areas like Richmond, Charlottesville, Lynchburg, and Roanoke, and Confederate monuments with no specific honoree are spread across rural areas (Map 1). There are fewer Confederate monuments in the western counties of the state (Map 1). The largest surge in monument creation occurred during the period from 1900-1919, when 63 monuments were erected (Map 3). Subsequently, monument dedication declined dramatically over the course of the 20th century, with only 14 being erected between 1920 and 1959, 6 between 1960 and 1999, and only 3 in the 21st century (Figure 4, Figure 5, Figure 6).

Map 2: Confederate Monuments Erected from 1870-1899.

Much of the debate about Confederate monuments has centered on those dedicated to elite figures. Both those opposed to and in favor of removal have tended to focus on the racism of the figures themselves – usually Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, or ‘Stonewall’ Jackson (Parks, 2017). The debate’s focus on statues of Confederate generals and leaders, however, does not reflect the nature of most Confederate monuments. Most of Virginia’s Confederate monuments are dedicated to men from a specific county or locale who served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War and memorializes those killed during the conflict. These monuments are usually adorned with the generic figure of a Confederate soldier, or no statue at all, rather just a plaque or stone. They are generally found on courthouse lawns, or somewhere in a town center Some scholars have linked these anonymous soldiers to assertions of white supremacy, linking their armed watch over a community undergoing civil and legal transition to efforts by Southern whites to monopolize the labor of African Americans while politically marginalizing them through segregation and Jim Crow laws (Brown 2019).

Map 3: Confederate Monuments Erected from 1900-1919.
Map 4: Confederate Monuments Erected from 1920-1959.

Activists in favor of removal have also argued that Confederate monuments were erected during the period of the Civil Rights movement as an assertion of white supremacy (Garfield & Carnley 2018). This is problematic because the exact dates of the Civil Rights movement are debated by historians. Some scholars have asserted that the Civil Rights movement began in the 1930s and ended in the 1980s, others argue for the traditional period from 1954-1968 (Hall 2005, Lawson 2011). However, most Confederate monuments in the state of Virginia were not erected during either period. The busiest period of monument creation and dedication was the 50 years from 1870 to 1920.

But that does not mean Confederate monuments escape any association with white supremacy. The erection of Confederate monuments in Virginia in the late 19th– and early 20th-centuries coincides with the rise of Jim Crow and the legal standardization of segregation in the United States (Weyeneth 2005). Correlation does not necessarily equal causation, but some scholars have linked the drive to erect Confederate monuments with a broader cultural and legal effort to establish white supremacy in public spaces through segregation. Further, a majority of the monuments featured in this research were erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), an organization dedicated to propagating “The Lost Cause” (Janney 2013). The central principles of the Lost Cause were white supremacy, the moral and legal correctness of the Confederate cause, and the glorification of Confederate soldiers and leaders (Nolan 2000). Another significant theme within Confederate monuments and statuary is memory of the fallen, however, this doesn’t necessarily imply that they escape any links to white supremacy. For families who were never able to recover a body from a distant battlefield, a monument offered a physical location to carry out the rituals of grief, but also gave the survivors a space to celebrate the cause for which they sacrificed so much. This sentiment is reflected in many of the Confederate monuments dedicated to no-specific honoree. Some scholars have explored this meaning, explaining that the rush of monument erection in the early 20th century was linked to anxieties that memories of the antebellum South and Confederacy would be lost with Confederate veterans, who were dying off at an alarming rate (Cox 2003). The link between mounting and meaning was, and still is, subjective. Without a thorough investigation of dedication speeches, statements of purpose, and the mission statements of organizations, the exact articulated meanings of individual monuments can be elusive.

File:Star City Confederate Monument 001.jpg
A Confederate Monument in Roanoke County, Virginia, typifies the non-specific honoree type of Confederate monument that are the most common in the state of Virginia. Wikimedia Commons.

Conclusion

Confederate monuments in the state of Virginia are more complex and nuanced than many of the debates have made them out to be. They are generally dedicated to no specific honoree and are generally not directly connected to the 20th century Civil Rights movement. The implications of these findings are that the arguments being used by both those against and in favor of removal are not talking about most Confederate monuments in Virginia. The stereotypical image of an equestrian statue put up during the Civil Rights era is a misrepresentation of what most Confederate monuments are in that state of Virginia. The reality, as illustrated in the maps is more complex, but it is still a story linked to white supremacy and symbols of oppression.  

Map 5: Confederate Monuments Erected from 1960-1999.
Map 6: Confederate Monuments Erected from 2000-2015.

This research has limitations. It does not map schools, buildings, towns, roads, and natural features that are named after Confederate leaders. Additionally, the Southern Poverty Law Center’s data that was used to create these maps was generated through crowdsourced mapped points, and the exact locations and monuments cannot be immediately verified. Further, the research, produced in the spring of 2019, does not account for the wave of removal, by both protestors and municipal bodies, that occurred in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

This research is also limited in its purely cartographic approach to Confederate monuments in Virginia. Without a thorough investigation of dedication speeches, monument inscriptions, symbology of each monument, the precise nature of monumentation and statuary in Virginia is elusive.

Table 1: Data Sources

NameCreatorDate Valid For DescriptionHyperlink
Virginia Counties T.I.G.E.R.2019Shapefile representing Virginia’s counties. Link
Whose Heritage Master SheetSouthern Poverty Law Center (SPLC)2019Google Sheets dataset containing name, location, date of dedication, and other available information of all Confederate monuments across the United States. Link

Works Cited

Brown, T. 2019 Civil War Monuments and the Militarization of America. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel hill, North Carolina, USA.

Cox. K. 2003. Dixie’s Daughters: The United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Preservation of Confederate Culture. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida, USA. 

Dew, C. 2001. Apostles of Disunion: Southern Secession Commissioners and the Causes of the Civil War. University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville, Virginia, USA. 

Garfield, L., Carnley, E. February 2018. More Than a Year After Charlottesville, These Cities Across the US Have Torn Down Controversial Confederate Monuments.

<https://www.businessinsider.com/confederatewhitenationalistmonumentsremovedcities20182> Accessed April 6, 2020.

Hall, J. 2005. The Long Civil Rights Movement and the Political Uses of the Past. The Journal of American History, Vol, 91, No. 4, 1233-1263. 

Janney, C. 2013. Remembering the Civil War. University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC, USA. 

Lawson, S. 2011. Long Origins of the Short Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968. 9-37. McGuire D., Dittmer, J. Freedom Rights: New Perspectives on the Civil Rights Movement. University of Kentucky Press, Lexington, Kentucky, USA. 

Nolan, A. 2000. The Anatomy of the Myth. 11-34. Gallagher G., Nolan A. The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indiana, USA. 

Parks M. 2017 Confederate Statues Were Built To Further A ‘White Supremacist Future.’ NPR. <https://www.npr.org/2017/08/20/544266880/confederatestatueswerebuilttofurtherawhitesupremacistfuture> Accessed April 25, 2020. 

Romo, V. December 7, 2019. Charlottesville Jury Convicts ‘Unite The Right’ Protestor Who Killed Woman. <https://www.npr.org/2018/12/07/674672922/jamesalexfieldsunitetherightprotesterwhokilledheatherheyerfoundguilt>   Accessed April 6, 2020.

Sedore, T. An Illustrated Guide to Virginia’s Confederate Monuments. University of Southern Illinois Press, USA, 2019.

Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). February 1, 2019. Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy of the Confederacy. <https://www.splcenter.org/20190201/whoseheritage-public-symbols-confederacy> Accessed April 6, 2020.

“Star City Confederate Monument.” National Register of Historical Places. Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Star_City_Confederate_Monument_001.jpg

Weyeneth, R. 2005. The Architecture of Racial Segregation: The Challenges of Preserving the Problematical Past. The Public Historian Vol. 27, No, 4, 13-44. 

  • Map Created by Ben Roy in 2019 in Dr. Rud Platt’s Environmental Studies 230 Course at Gettysburg College. Maps created using QGIS.
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