Monuments played a cultural role in establishing the Jim Crow South. Unlike Reconstruction monuments, post-Reconstruction monuments were erected in prominent public spaces, and their focus shifted toward the portrayal and glorification of famous Confederates. Monument dedication ceremonies were particularly popular around the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, peaking in 1911.
Additional Confederate monuments have been dedicated since that period, but those numbers pale in comparison to the monument-building spree of 1878 to 1912.
My research investigates the political effects of Confederate monuments in the Reconstruction and early post-Reconstruction—1877-1912—eras, namely their effects on Democratic Party vote share and voter turnout.
I expected monuments’ potential effects to be directly related to their centrality to everyday life and glorification of the Confederacy. This is the primary difference between soldier-memorializing Reconstruction and Confederate-glorifying post-Reconstruction monuments.
I expected to find little political effect from soldier-memorializing Reconstruction monuments, but some pro-Jim Crow effects from Confederate-glorifying post-Reconstruction monuments. As monuments moved from cemeteries into central public spaces such as parks and squares, I expected them to affect voters’ decisions.
That is precisely what I found.
During Reconstruction, counties that dedicated Confederate monuments saw no change in voter turnout or Democratic Party vote share in biennial congressional elections. These symbols were soldier-memorializing and physically separate from public life and did not influence voter decision-making.
However, when monuments began to glorify the Confederacy and shifted into public life, political effects emerged.
Counties that dedicated monuments in the early post-Reconstruction period saw, on average, a 5.5 percentage point increase in Democratic Party vote share and a 2.2 percentage point decrease in voter turnout compared with other counties.
As monuments changed, so did their effect on the public. Glorifying public monuments communicated to the public that the Confederacy was worth preserving, thus strengthening Democratic majorities and lowering participation in the political process.
Larger Democratic majorities alongside lower voter turnout already suggests Black Southerners, who almost exclusively voted for Republicans at that time, were voting less in areas with monuments. I conducted further exploration and found that these political effects disproportionately occurred in counties with larger Black populations. This suggests that Black voters were more responsive to Confederate monuments, which signaled that the local community did not accept them, further suppressing their political activity.