Aug 17, 2021
Four summers after white nationalists and neo-Nazis marched on Charlottesville, the Confederate statues that they sought to defend were quietly removed. On a Saturday in July, in front of a small, supportive crowd, workers used a crane to remove the figures of Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, a scene dramatically different than the one that unfolded on August 12, 2017. On that day, a ‘Unite the Right’ rally sparked violent clashes with counter-protesters. It was a defining moment of Donald Trump's early presidency, a source of deepening political division and racial awareness in a nation yet to fully reckon with the legacy of the Civil War and slavery. But on July 10 there were no Confederate flags or swastikas on display in Charlottesville. Instead, city leaders claimed a small victory over racism. Is this progress? James Grossman, the executive director of the American Historical Association, discusses why statues matter, when and why they were erected decades after the Civil War, and whether new state laws banning the teaching of critical race theory make sense.