As politicians drag their feet, poll shows Southerners agree that something should be done about Confederate symbols and statues

Earlier this year, city officials postponed adding a plaque to the John C. Calhoun monument downtown

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The first Calhoun monument was erected in 1887, the second in 1896. - DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
  • The first Calhoun monument was erected in 1887, the second in 1896.
A recent poll found that a slim majority of Southerners agree that Confederate monuments should be altered in some way, if not altogether removed.

The poll, conducted by Winthrop University and released this month, surveyed 969 adults in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

Forty-two percent of respondents said that statues and symbols honoring Confederate soldiers who died in the Civil War should be left alone.



Twenty-eight percent said that a plaque with historical context should be added to the monuments, while 23 percent thought they should be moved to a museum, and five percent thought they should be removed.

Of white respondents, 47 percent supported leaving the Confederate monuments as is, while 71 percent of black respondents supported taking some sort of action, including removal.

"All told, 56 percent want to do something other than simply leave the monuments and statues as they are, but these folks are very divided on what should be done," said poll director Scott Huffmon in the report. "A strong plurality advocate leaving them as they are."
The Southern Poverty Law Center counted 13 public Confederate monuments in Charleston County in a report released in June. Nine of those are streets named after Confederate leaders on James Island. In total, the state had 194 Confederate monuments at the time of the report. Fifty-eight of them stood on public property.

When it comes to statues honoring leaders and politicians who supported racial segregation, Southerners are a little bit less forgiving: 30 percent want them left alone, 26 percent support a marker, another 26 percent support moving them to a museum, and 13 percent support removal.

Again, these responses vary starkly by race. Thirty-four percent of white respondents, the biggest share, want them left alone, while the biggest share of black respondents, 37 percent, support moving them to a museum.

"Statues to avowed segregationists are more controversial than monuments to the Confederate fallen," Huffmon said. "A much slimmer plurality advocate leaving them as is while nearly as many would like to add a marker for historical context or move them to museums. While only 13 percent wish to remove them entirely, it is notable that this is more than twice as many people who want Confederate memorials wholly removed."

Earlier this year, Charleston City Council deferred a proposal to add a contextual plaque to the towering John C. Calhoun monument in downtown Charleston's Marion Square. The proposal drew the attention of a number of preservationists, historians, and activists on both sides of the aisle. Calhoun, a South Carolina politician who served as the 17th vice president of the United States, viewed slavery as a "positive good."

The Heritage Act of 2000 prevents the alteration of any monument without a two-thirds vote from the state House and Senate. Legislators voted to remove the Confederate battle flag from Statehouse grounds in 2015 after an avowed white supremacist killed nine worshippers at Mother Emanuel in downtown Charleston.
Elsewhere, cities and local groups have taken action in recent years to move Confederate monuments from public spaces. A week after the Emanuel massacre, New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu started urging the public to reconsider who should be officially memorialized. In May 2017, the city removed a prominent statue of Robert E. Lee.

In August, a statue to a Confederate leader was toppled by protesters on the University of North Carolina campus as they rallied for its removal. Officials are now considering options to display it in a museum-like setting.

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