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Monuments Across the United States Re-Emerged as Targets of Rage Over a Weekend of Widespread Protest | artnet News

Monuments Across the United States Re-Emerged as Targets of Rage Over a Weekend of Widespread Protest | artnet News

Amid the breathtaking wave of protests over police violence shaking the United States, public monuments of all kinds have become flashpoints. Long-disputed Confederate statues and other celebrations of figures associated with racism have become both targets for protesters and rallying sites for a nascent counter-protest movement.

Below is a partial accounting of some of the ways monuments became targets of protest, just in the past few momentous days.



In Richmond, Virginia, as riot police and protesters faced off on Sunday, memorials to Confederate grandees Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and J.E.B. Stuart stood covered in protest graffiti. “At one point,” the reported of the demonstrations, “a protester climbed the Jefferson Davis statue, hung a noose around its neck and rallied other protesters to pull the statue down, which was unsuccessful.”

Nearby, the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the organization historically responsible for many of the monuments to the Confederacy, was also covered with graffiti, including phrases like “fucking racists,” “police are creepy,” “stole from us,” and “abolition,” according to the . It was set ablaze in the early hours of Sunday.

Nine fire trucks were called in to fight the blaze at the institution, which is located between the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and the Virginia Museum of History & Culture.

Nearby stands , a sculpture by artist Kehinde Wiley depicting a contemporary black male figure atop a rearing horse. The work was seen in Times Square last year before being installed in Richmond as an artistic reply to the nearby Confederate scultures. On Sunday, the  reported that it was untouched by graffiti nearby.


In Birmingham, Alabama, following a “Birmingham, the World Is Watching” rally on Sunday night, protesters toppled a brass sculpture of Charles Linn, a captain in the Confederate navy. According to WBRC, the Linn sculpture was pulled to the ground with a rope.

Nearby, a 52-foot-tall obelisk known as the Confederate Soldiers and Sailors Monument, was also targeted, but not brought down.

The obelisk’s foundation was laid in 1894 at a Confederate veterans reunion, and dedicated in 1905 by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. Since the 2017 wave of protests against Confederate memorials, it has been surrounded by plywood barriers to keep it from public view, though supporters of the monument have sought to protect it using the Alabama Heritage Preservation Act, according to Citylab.

On Sunday night, Sarah Parcak, a renowned professor of Egyptology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, posted step-by-step instructions on Twitter for how to tear down an obelisk, clearly referring to the Birmingham protests.

Parcak’s Tweets inflamed Twitter, and made the .

In a sign of how quickly context collapses on the internet, a large number of conservative voices including Ryan Fournier, co-founder of Students for Trump, accused her of advocating the destruction of the Washington Monument and called for her firing.



In Charleston, South Carolina, a Black Lives Matter protest on Sunday faced off peacefully with a handful of Sons of Confederate Soldiers activists.

The latter members were out to clear the “To the Confederate Defenders of Charleston” monument, which had been vandalized the previous night. The Sons of Confederate Soldiers have held a weekly celebration of the Confederate flag at the monument since 2015, in responses to demands that it be taken down. The monument has been a frequent site of protest since.

However, in a sign of the times, the founder of the weekly Confederate meet-up, James Bessenger, called to end the practice, according to the .

“[T]hose in the Confederate Heritage Community who genuinely wish to preserve the cultural, historical, and academic value of the Confederacy are greatly and irreversibly outnumbered by those who have far less honorable motives,” Bessenger, who also founded the North Carolina Succession Party, told the paper.

“While I cannot undo the hurt, grief, fear, and apprehension that the weekly flaggings at the battery have caused countless passersby, I pray that I can play a part in putting an end to this unnecessary, unproductive legacy,” Bessenger added.



Three and a half hours north of Charleston in Salisbury, North Carolina, a confrontation between several dozen Black Lives Matters protesters and a group of pro-Confederate activists at the local Confederate monument took a more alarming turn on Saturday night.

Local WBTV reported that police arrested 49-year-old Jeffrey Allan Long, from the Confederate counter-protesters, for firing a gun twice into the air after the two groups got into a “very loud face-to-face argument.”

A second man, Brandon Walker, was also arrested and charged with one count of carrying a concealed weapon.

Salisbury’s so-called “Fame” monument depicts an angel cradling a wounded Confederate soldier. Cast in bronze, it was erected by the Daughters of Confederate Soldiers in 1905.



A variety of other types of monuments were targeted by the surge of protest, usually ones that were already symbols of local struggles over racism.

In Philadelphia on Saturday, a 10-foot sculpture of Frank Rizzo dating from 1999 was defaced, with protesters attempting to pull it down and set it on fire. Rizzo, a former police commissioner-turned-mayor whose nickname was “Supercop,” was known for strong-arm police tactics against the city’s black community.

In a press conference on Sunday, mayor Jim Kenney declared that he “never liked that statue,” which had been set to remain on the steps of the Municipal Services Building until 2021 despite controversy. Kenney suggesting it would now be moved in the next several months. “We’re going to accelerate its movement.”

Striking images on Sunday afternoon showed the Rizzo statue guarded by a solid wall of armed police.

San Antonio

In San Antonio, the Alamo Cenotaph was hit with graffiti on Thursday night reading “[Down with] white supremacy / [down with] profit over people / [down with] the ALAMO.” Police arrested one suspect.

The incident led members of the militia known as This Is Texas Freedom Force (TITFF) to stand guard at the Cenotaph in the following days, sporting rifles and shotguns. On Sunday, the Alamo Plaza exploded in conflict.

“Violence first erupted at the Alamo during a confrontation between members of TITFF and the nearby protesters speaking out against the police killing of George Floyd,” KSTX reported. “TITFF was heavily armed, and said their presence was necessary in light of the recent anti-white-supremacy graffiti protest art that someone tagged the Alamo Cenotaph with.”

Police formed a circle to shield the Alamo Cenotaph and militia members from the anti-police-violence demonstrators. Fights broke out between protesters, militia, police, and Alamo security as the evening unfolded, according to KSTX. Militia members were eventually individually escorted by police from the plaza by SAPD.

Afterwards, police moved in with tear gas as storefronts along East Houston Street were attacked.


In Denver, the Colorado Soldiers Monument, which honors the state’s past military leaders, was defaced. A traffic cone was hung over the figure’s gun, and pictures show a poster placed at its base with the faces of black victims of police violence.

“The statue honors past military leaders in Colorado,” Denverite reported. “It includes the name of the colonel who led the Sand Creek massacre that killed an estimated 500 Arapaho and Cheyenne in 1864. The statue lists the massacre as a ‘battle.’”

Nearby, the Khachkar memorial to the Armenian Genocide at the state capital, dedicated in 2015, was tagged with black spray paint, with the ground in front of it scrawled with the words “Cops Are the Evil.”

The graffiti led to a statement from the group behind the memorial, Armenians of Colorado: “Protest leaders have repeatedly denounced violence and vandalism. We do not hold the peaceful protesters responsible for the behavior of violent individuals. As Armenian Americans, a community that has survived genocide and centuries of oppression, we recognize and condemn the ongoing injustices against our African American community and we join them in calling for justice for George Floyd.”


Washington, DC

In Washington, DC, the Lincoln Memorial and World War II Memorial were both graffitied amid waves of civil unrest.

The vandalism of one DC statue even threatened to become a minor diplomatic incident. Polish ambassador Piotr Wilczek took to Twitter to profess himself “disgusted and appalled” that a sculpture of Thaddeus Kosciuszko was defaced. “I implore @WhiteHouse & @NatlParkService to quickly restore the statue to its original state.”

Kosciuszko, a hero of both the American and Polish independent movements, was an early abolitionist who famously attempted to use his American estate to purchase the freedom of Thomas Jefferson’s slaves and provide for their education—a charge that Jefferson declined to honor.



Given the sheer breadth of what is already likely to be the largest wave of rebellion since the ’60s, many more examples could be listed, from the University of Mississippi, where a Confederate monument was branded with the words “spiritual genocide,” to Nashville, where a sculpture of the racist politician and newspaper Edward Carmack was toppled.

One notable event took place in Louisville, Kentucky, a city particularly full of rage given the recent police killing of Breonna Taylor. During a protest on Friday night, a hand was torn from the city’s monumental marble statue of Louis XVI.

The statue was originally made in 1829 for the Bourbon king’s daughter Marie-Thérèse. It was presented to the City of Louisville in 1967 as a sign of comity with its sister city Montpelier.

The incident briefly became the subject of internet infamy on Saturday when the 44-year-old Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Anjou—described by the as “a polo-playing financier with movie-star looks”—took to social media to use the incident to call attention to his claim on the French throne.

“As the heir of Louis XVI, and attached to the defense of his memory, I do hope that the damage will be repaired and that the statue will be restored,” the Duke wrote. “I already thank the Authorities for the measures they will take for that.”

Louis XVI is mainly associated with his lavish and dissolute lifestyle, and with being beheaded during the French Revolution.

Whatever levity was to be had by the minor controversy was drowned out by the force of events unfolding in the city over the weekend. On Sunday night, some 40 protesters were arrested in the fourth night of protests. Early Monday morning, police shot and killed a black restaurant owner, David McAtee, during the protests.

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