In not necessarily surprising but still disturbing news, a new study from the University of Virginia reveals that locations with a greater number of Confederate monuments tended to have a more extensive history of public lynchings of Black men and women.
Kynala Phillips of NBC News reported that the study, published by the National Academy of Sciences, “analyzed county-level lynching data involving Black people from 1832 to 1950. The data showed that the number of lynchings in an area was associated with a higher likelihood that the same area would have Confederate monuments.”
In a statement, University of Virginia researcher and psychologist Kyshia Henderson, who led the study, said, “the prediction was always that lynching and memorials would be connected. We made this prediction because we knew the history of lynchings and memorials. Also, scholars and activists have long said that Confederate memorials are associated with hate. We want to provide empirical evidence of that.”
As history has shown, lynchings were common during the eras of slavery and Jim Crow. Henderson said her group used them as a marker of racism and hate “because they are recognizable forms of violence used to suppress and intimidate Black people.”
Henderson’s research also cited previous studies analyzing 30 different dedication speeches given when these Confederate monuments were unveiled. According to Phillips, this study found that “half of them used explicitly racist phrases — some even mentioned protecting the Anglo-Saxon race.”
“For communities grappling with Confederate memorials and what to do with them, this work provides some guidance,” Henderson said.
“We can’t pinpoint exactly the cause and effect, but the association is clearly there,” added UVA professor and researcher Sophie Trawalter. “At a minimum, the data suggests that localities with attitudes and intentions that led to lynchings also had attitudes and intentions associated with the construction of Confederate memorials.”
Henderson pointed to the 2019 “Ignite the Right” protest by conservatives over the removal of a Confederate statue in Charlottesville, Virginia, as a turning point in the way many people thought of Confederate statues today.
“After that event, a lot of people that weren’t already engaged in activism surrounding these Confederate memorials began to take notice of these things,” Henderson said. “It is important to recognize these memorials live in our public spaces, and this matters. Memorials in our public spaces say something about who is rightful, who is welcomed, and who is entitled in these spaces. So, what we chose to memorialize in these spaces should matter.”
According to NBC News, 169 different Confederate symbols were removed from various public parks, city centers, and state recreation areas following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others over the course of 2020. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) estimates that more than 2,000 Confederate memorials currently remain across the country.