Memory  /  Study

Whose Heritage? Public Symbols of the Confederacy

A Southern Poverty Law Center study identified over 1,500 publicly-displayed symbols of the Confederacy in the South and beyond.
Chart of when Confederate monuments and namings occurred, with peaks in the 1910s and the 1960s.
Southern Poverty Law Center

This report has five parts in addition to our public map and dataset. The introduction details the long history of Black protest over Confederate memorials, drawing on scholarship to help contextualize our data, and argues that Confederate monument removal offers an important education in democracy and civic participation.[6] Next, the methodology section explains how SPLC works in collaboration with communities to source our data, and how we make decisions about what to include (and exclude) from our database. The analysis section outlines five main conclusions drawn from the data. Action items provide suggestions for how you can work to remove Confederate symbols from your community. Finally, the conclusion looks ahead to how we can make our collective history.

1. Most Confederate memorials are not what are commonly referred to as monuments.

Although there are 723 live monuments in SPLC’s database as of January 20, 2022, there are more roadways (741) honoring Confederates than there are monuments. Together with schools (201), counties and municipalities (104), parks (38), buildings (51), holidays (22), military bases (10), commemorative license plates (7), bodies of water (6), and bridges (6), these places do important cultural work to reinforce white supremacy.

2. Confederate memorials are not limited to the South.

While the vast majority of Confederate memorials today are located in former Confederate States (1,910), Confederate memorials can be found in Union States and Washington, DC (44), border states (102), states that were not yet admitted to the Union (30), and even Puerto Rico (1).

3. The popularity of different kinds of Confederate memorials changes over time, reflecting shifting methods of intimidating Black communities.

Most Confederate monuments were erected in the period following Reconstruction and during Jim Crow. After World War II, the Confederate battle flag took on new meaning as a symbol of white supremacy, when “Dixiecrats” used it to oppose Civil Rights.[7] Schools were largely named after Confederates in the period following the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision in Brown v. Board, which ended racial segregation in public schools. In each instance, though the specific type of memorial changed, the intent — to terrorize Black Americans — remained the same.[8]

4. Recent efforts to remove Confederate memorials offer insights that can assist social justice advocates working to create fairer, freer, and more just public spaces.

Since the Charleston church massacre in 2015, activists have successfully renamed, relocated, and removed 377 Confederate memorials from communities across the United States. This progress draws on the long history of Black activism contesting Confederate memorials. Despite the passage of draconian preservation laws over the past decade, communities have found creative ways to remove symbols of hate from public space.

5. The top three individuals commemorated are Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Stonewall Jackson.

Most Confederate memorials in the United States today don’t commemorate a specific individual (722). But of the ones that do, Robert E. Lee (235) is most frequently honored, followed by Jefferson Davis (144), and Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson (121).