Statue of Jefferson Davis being removed from UT-Austin's campus in 2015. Photo by Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN.
Across the United States, Confederate monuments are coming down. In New Orleans, four were removed earlier this year by workers whose faces were covered to protect their identities; in Durham, North Carolina, one was toppled by frustrated protesters this past Monday; and on Wednesday, four were ferried away on flatbed trucks before dawn in Baltimore.
So where do they go next?
The removals themselves often occur after protracted legal battles and amid pitched protests—the most high-profile of which resulted in the killing of a counter-protester in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend. But the fate of these monuments once they’re taken down from their pedestals does not receive the same level of attention. Now, as a growing number of cities propose the removal of local Confederate statues and monuments (there are more than 700 on public land across the county), the often overlooked matter of what comes next is poised to become increasingly significant.
In 2015, two candidates from the University of Texas at Austin’s satire magazine were elected to lead the student government—largely on the basis of their promise to remove a statue of former Confederate president Jefferson Davis from campus. University president Greg Fenves soon convened a 12-person advisory panel to determine the statue’s fate.
Composed of professors, students, and alumni, the group offered a series of proposals that ranged from outright removal to the addition of contextual plaques. In the end, Fenves declared that the statue of Davis would be relocated to an on-campus museum. It was taken down in August 2015; 20 months later, it was installed in the newly-renovated Briscoe Center for American History, where it is accompanied by a plaque that reads, in part: “[T]he statue’s presence in an educational exhibit—as opposed to a place of honor on campus—underlines the fact that Davis, as well as many of his ideas and actions, are no longer commemorated or endorsed by the university.” (Three other statues of Confederate leaders remain on campus in their original locations.)
Indeed, despite the heated debate around their removal, Confederate monuments are almost never destroyed after they are taken down. The majority are or likely will be relocated to museums or historical sites.
Statue of Robert E. Lee being removed from Lee Circle in New Orleans this May. Image via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo by Jay Janner/AMERICAN-STATESMAN.
In April 2016, another school—Kentucky’s University of Louisville—announced its decision to remove a 70-foot-tall concrete pedestal, topped with a statue of a Confederate soldier, from campus. Following a public comment period, Louisville’s Commission for Public Art considered “five or six” historical sites for relocation, Louisville’s public art administrator Sarah Lindgren told Artsy. These included several Kentucky Civil War battlefield sites, a Confederate cemetery, and the state’s Civil War museum.
They were also approached by the Ratcliffe Foundation, a private organization based in Virginia that is “accepting [Confederate monuments] onto their property with the promise to maintain them for historical sake,” according to Lindgren. (The foundation did not respond to a request for comment.)
Ultimately, the commission relocated the monument to a public, rather than private, location. “There was still a lot of support for the monument,” Lindgren said. “One of the considerations was that it should be accessible.” The mayor selected the nearby town of Brandenburg—home to a significant Civil War battlefield—to receive the monument, which was dedicated in May. The whole process took about six months, according to Lindgren.
Confederate monuments have also been relocated to cemeteries. In Gainesville, Florida, the local government was having trouble finding a new spot for its monument to fallen Confederate soldiers that stood in front of a county administration building.
“The solution, which should have been obvious from the beginning, was simply to give it back to who gave it to us,” county commissioner Robert Hutchinson said.
The original donors were the United Daughters of the Confederacy, who found a new spot for their 113-year-old statue in a nearby cemetery. County officials had no control where it would ultimately be taken, and Hutchison said they were also unsure as to whether the UDC had plans to add a historical plaque to the statue.
Sometimes the removal of the monument precedes the decision about where it will end up. When New Orleans took down its Confederate monuments, the first of which was removed this April, they were put into storage in an undisclosed location. A plan for their fate is now being determined. (Baltimore, which removed four monuments this week, also has placed them in storage in an unnamed location.)
In May, the New Orleans mayor’s office floated several potential sites: Beauvoir (the home of Jefferson Davis’s Presidential Library), the Smithsonian, and Washington and Lee University. The school immediately announced that it was not, in fact, interested in the monument to Robert E. Lee because “the statue that exists in New Orleans is about his time as a soldier, and their university focuses on any work he did around education post the war.”
Through this summer, the city was accepting proposals for what to do with the monuments, receiving suggestions from nonprofits and government agencies. It has assembled a committee of city officials to sort through the feedback and make a final recommendation to the New Orleans city council. Proposals must detail how the organization “will place the statues in context, both in terms of why they were first erected and why the City chose to remove them in 2015.” The city has also stipulated that the monuments cannot again be displayed outdoors on public property in Orleans Parish.
A Confederate monument that once stood in St. Louis has also been in storage since its removal in July. Mark Trout, founder and director of the Missouri Civil War Museum, now has custody of the statue following a legal battle with the city that resulted in a settlement. The settlement dictates that the monument cannot be placed within the city of St. Louis or the wider St. Louis County. “We may not have it taken off our hands,” Trout said. “It’s something that the museum may always hang on to.”
The bronze portion, Trout told Artsy, was painted by protestors and the city’s resulting use of paint stripper damaged the work. It will be undergoing restoration for the next six to 12 months. The stone base—all 200,000 pounds of it—is in protective storage. “The longterm goal for it would obviously be to find a suitable place for it at a Civil War battlefield, a Civil War cemetery, or a museum property but we have to see where it all goes.”
He said he’d just gotten off the phone with a museum in Arkansas that was asking for advice in dealing with a similar situation. “I don’t think this is the last Confederate monument that I’m going to be involved in saving,” he said.