Where They Stood: A Photojournalist Documents the Nation's Fallen Confederate MonumentsBreaking News
tags: memorials, Confederacy, monuments, public history
It’s been a long time since I sat in an American history class, but what I remember of my education in Jacksonville, Florida, in the 1980s and 90s, is how much of it was not fact, but myth.
I was taught that the Civil War was fought over states’ rights—a concept that seemed plausible to a kid—and that our side had its own heroes and its own stories worth remembering. Where did slavery and white supremacy fit into that history? Plainly, they didn’t. We must have skipped the chapter explaining that the South’s fight was in defense of slavery, if it existed at all.
In high school, I played soccer and ran track and competed regularly against teams from Nathan B. Forrest High School and Robert E. Lee High School, the former named for a Confederate general and first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and the latter named for the famous Confederate Army general. The history of slavery was everywhere if you wanted to find it—even in the city’s name. Jacksonville comes from Andrew Jackson, the seventh U.S. president and a prominent enslaver. (We weren’t taught that part of his life in school either.)
Several of my relatives who live in north Florida still fly the Confederate flag on their boats and paste stars and bars stickers on their trucks. Some of them wear it on T-shirts, claiming, of course, “Heritage Not Hate.” But to me, what the Confederate flag celebrates is Southerners’ long tradition of lying to ourselves about the past. It’s not a rallying cry of loyalty to our homeland; it’s an unspoken threat, a reminder that white supremacy lives on.
Last fall, I began to document the Confederate monuments that have been taken down since George Floyd’s death. In April, I started a five-week, 7,300-mile road trip throughout the South to continue this work. My goal is to create a record of an unraveling—this moment in time when long-held narratives about Southern pride and memorialization of Civil War leaders are literally being knocked off their pedestals.
I’m photographing the spaces where the monuments once stood, as well as where they’ve ended up. And I’m pairing those photos with archival images of the monuments, commemorated on postcards, in state and university archives, and in the Library of Congress.
Some government officials were proud of their city’s actions, saying off the record that “it’s about time.” Others allowed me access to where their monument is being stored, while they wrestle with the question of what, if anything, should be done with them now.
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