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Confederate Memorials and the Unjust Geography of Memory

What the global history of street renaming can teach us about America's monument battle
The intersection of Lee Ave., named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and Grant Street, named for President Ulysses S. Grant, is shown in Little Rock, Arkansas.
The intersection of Lee Ave., named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and Grant Street, named for President Ulysses S. Grant, is shown in Little Rock, Arkansas.Danny Johnston/AP

Like the Charleston Massacre of 2015 before it, the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville earlier this month has served as a catalyst that is reigniting the movement to dismantle the symbols of white supremacy in the United States. From Baltimore to Lexington, cities across the U.S. have either removed Confederate monuments from public spaces already or are currently considering such proposals. Yet many Confederate memorials across the country remain in place despite calls for their removal.

According to a recent study conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy in public spaces throughout the U.S., and the actual figure is likely much higher if street names are added to the list. In fact, one recent study found that there were at least 1,417 streets named in honor of Confederate leaders nationwide. (Interestingly, the same study documented 1,426 streets named after Civil Rights leaders as well.)