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Is this the end for public monuments to the Confederacy?

More than 150 years after the Civil War, monuments, schools and roads across the country still bear the names of Confederate leaders. But amidst recent protests demanding racial equality, there is a renewed push to take down the monuments and rename other landmarks. Lisa Desjardins reports on how the death of George Floyd has prompted louder calls to remove public symbols of the Confederacy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    More than 150 years after the Civil War, monuments, schools and roads across the country still honor Confederate generals and leaders.

    But in the midst of the recent protests demanding racial equality, there is a renewed push to take down the monuments.

    In a moment, Amna Nawaz will talk to the man who lead the drive to have NASCAR ban Confederate Flags.

    But, first, Lisa Desjardins looks at how the death of George Floyd has prompted louder calls to remove public symbols of the Confederacy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    It is perhaps the greatest dismantling of the Confederacy since the Civil War, in Richmond, Virginia…

  • Protesters:

    Hands up, don't shoot!

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    … in Birmingham, Alabama, Confederate statues removed or protests demanding their removal.

    New Orleans.

  • Woman:

    New Orleans is going to bring the movement forward.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Jacksonville, Florida.

  • Protesters:

    Black lives matter!

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Across the country, it is a direct extension of the protests against racism after George Floyd's death.

  • Lecia Brooks:

    I think what's happening right now in the present moment is that people are really beginning to understand what we mean by the structures of white supremacy.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    While some argue the monuments honor Southern ancestors, Lecia Brooks of the Southern Poverty Law Center says most went up either early in the 20th century or during the civil rights era, as racist groups like the Ku Klux Klan flexed their muscle.

    Some have come down before, like the Confederate Flag off South Carolina Statehouse grounds following the murder of nine African-Americans in a Charleston church in 2015, and statues removed after a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

    But Brooks senses something different now.

  • Lecia Brooks:

    I think we're in a — in the midst of a real inflection point. I have never seen so — such a multi-breadth racial, multiethnic coalition of protesters demanding an end to anti-black racism.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    For some, the monuments are an important start.

  • Michelle Sewell:

    You were traitors. You attempted to secede from the Union, then had the audacity to lose and then put up monuments of your loss? I don't — that feels like a great lie. And racism is what has allowed it to be a lie.

  • John Jones:

    For me, a lot of these monuments represent times that members of my family and my culture and my race have suffered.

  • Michael Ferrara:

    By removing these statues, it's going to give people an opportunity to really reexamine the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction and Jim Crow and all that went with it.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    According the Southern Poverty Law Center, at least 1,800 sites across the country commemorate the Confederacy, either with a monument or place name, among them, 10 military bases named for Confederate officers, including Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Hood in Texas.

    Defense Secretary Esper has signalled he's open to changing those names. Retired Army Colonel Mike Jason wrote an op-ed to Pentagon leaders this week.

  • Col. Mike Jason (Ret.):

    I have seen the e-mails and the paperwork. I have spoke to commanders and peers and colleagues, and they're ready to make this happen. They're talking to soldiers. They're generating options and alternatives. Great men and women have served this country, and they're excited to do this.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But President Trump himself has vehemently pushed back, tweeting, "These bases are part of great American heritage," and his administration would not even consider renaming them.

    But this week the Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Republicans, voted behind closed doors to require renaming those bases within three years.

    Mike Rounds, Republican of South Dakota:

  • Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.:

    We don't want to forget what's happened in the past. But, at the same time, that doesn't mean that we should continue with those bases with the names of individuals who fought against our country.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    But Congress faces an issue under its own roof about the statues in the U.S. Capitol itself. Eleven statues memorialize Confederate leaders, including Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate General Joseph Wheeler standing just a few feet away from a plaque marking the spot of Abraham Lincoln's desk in Congress.

    House Speaker Pelosi this week asked for Congress to now take all the Confederate statues off display.

  • Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:

    Can you imagine Jefferson Davis, Alexander Stephens, treason — they committed treason against the United States of America, and their statues are still here, because their states put them here.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Republican Senator Roy Blunt, who oversees the committee responsible for the statues, says moving them is possible, but only the states can take them out of the Capitol. And some states are, like Arkansas, about to replace its controversial statues with musician Johnny Cash and civil rights activist and journalist Daisy Bates.

    It is a cultural turn. NASCAR this week banned the Confederate Flag from its events. The Navy and Marine Corps have also just banned the flag.

    But some worry this is a slippery slope toward the removal of monuments to founding fathers, many of whom were slave owners. Others say the country needs to be more educated about its racist past.

  • Catherine Stringfellow:

    I don't agree with the wholesale removal of everything that pertains to the Confederacy, because we need to understand what our history is. It's that we don't need things that glorify that history.

  • Rebecca Phoenix:

    They need to be put in a historical context that they're not being put into. And there's so much work and healing to be done in this country. It's just — it's really not possible when you have people worshiping these symbols of oppression.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    The Confederacy survived for only four years, but it has shaped discrimination and divide for generations since, now, again, a test of how long its symbols will stand.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Lisa Desjardins.

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