How historic congregations grapple with Confederate legacy. Should Churches Keep Their Civil War Landmarks?
Since Dylann Roof, a rebel flag-waving white supremacist, opened fire at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal in Charleston two years ago, the debate over historical markers of the Civil War South has taken on more urgency and more widespread concern.
The flags came down first, starting with the contentious one that flew on South Carolina’s capitol grounds. A year after the Mother Emanuel massacre, the Southern Baptist Convention called on Christians to stop displaying the Confederate flag. The Episcopal Church made a similar statement, and its National Cathedral in Washington, DC, opted to remove two images of the flag in its stained glass windows.
Communities and institutions shifted their discussions around their own landmarks, namesakes, and long-ago history; most notably, New Orleans spent two years eliminating its Civil War monuments, the last of which—a statue of General Robert E. Lee—came down last month. Protestors with torches challenged plans to do the same in Charlottesville, Virginia. But despite the new pressure around Confederate history, these cases remain the exception.
“Few public Confederate monuments have been changed, moved, or razed since 2015,” USA Today reported, estimating 700 to 1,000 such monuments remain across 31 states. “While flags can be lowered, songs censored, mascots switched, and schools renamed, monuments are the most tangible and least mutable memorial symbols.”
The debate over such markers inevitably involves the church buildings that housed—and the many more that later memorialized—the history of the Confederate States of America. The most striking example may be St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia, nicknamed the …
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