Durham, North Carolina, has become the latest flashpoint in the ongoing battle between anti-racists and white supremacists, as community members converged on a monument to the slave-holding Confederacy before tearing it down, to cheers and applause from the crowd.
After the statue fell, protesters ran up to it, stomping and kicking it. Police officers were nowhere to be found during the peaceful event.
The protest had materialized following a Sunday evening vigil denouncing a neo-Nazi riot which left three dead and 19 injured in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend. According to reports, a group interrupted the vigil with bullhorns, telling participants, “There's a Confederate memorial right fucking there,” and asking the vigil to join them.
After the statue was torn down, the protesters — who assembled to “smash white supremacy,” according to local reports — then took their message to the streets, marching through the city and toward the police department. Protesters shouted, “cops and the klan go hand in hand,” among other chants.
The statue represented a Confederate soldier who fought in the U.S. Civil War, and was engraved with “The Confederate States of America.” Dedicated to the city of Durham, the statue was built in 1924 — the same year the 26-foot-high bronze equestrian General Robert E. Lee statue was erected in Charlottesville.
“It needs to be removed,” organizer Loan Tran told CBS North Carlina. “These Confederate statues in Durham, in North Carolina, all across the country. When I see a Confederate statue in downtown Durham, or really anywhere, it fills me with a lot of rage and frustration.”
A spokesperson for Durham County told local journalists that removing the statue, which had attracted graffiti and outraged non-white and progressive residents, was illegal due to a North Carolina state law that was passed several years ago that prohibited the removal or alteration of historical monuments and memorials.
“People can be mobilized and people are angry and when enough people are angry, we don’t have to look to politicians to sit around in air conditions and do nothing when we can do things ourselves,” Takiyah Thompson told CBS.
Following a spike in protests and growing awareness of police killings and the 2015 white terrorist attack on an African Methodist Episcopalian church in Charleston, South Carolina, that claimed nine lives, the statues have increasingly come under fire as an embodiment of anti-Black bigotry and white supremacy.
According to a tally by USA Today in May, over 1,000 Confederate monuments remain standing in 31 states across the U.S. Only 11 states formed the Confederacy, which attempted to secede from the United States, or Union. Southern declarations of secession resulted in a bloody four-year civil war that saw the Confederacy dissolved and slavery abolished.
For decades following the Confederacy's defeat, a nostalgic and mythologized about the so-called “Lost Cause” — noble Southern “rebels” rising up despite the odds to defend their way of life from Northern Yankees — proliferated across the U.S. south among white people.
Lost Cause propagandists scoffed at charges of racism, seeking to reframe the civil war not as a fight to preserve violent institutions of slavery and white supremacy, but as a constitutional clash over state's rights that ultimately resulted in a tragedy for once-prosperous whites in the south and even for Black people, whom they alleged had benefited from industrious lives provided by kind former plantation masters.
This revisionist history, which also revolved around false claims of white victimization at the hands of Jewish northern “carpetbaggers” and vengeful Black ex-slaves and their "malcontent" children during the era of Reconstruction and afterwards, laid the basis for the rise of white terrorist groups like the Ku Klux Klan as well as Jim Crow segregation laws that systematized the continued oppression and exclusion of Black people.
The persistence of the Lost Cause myth is evident in the large number of klansmen present at the Charlottesville riot, the use of KKK slogans such as “you will not replace us” at the riot, as well as the fact that 35 monuments to the Confederacy have been built in North Carolina since 2000.