As the nation and wider world enter the second week of widespread uprisings against anti-Black police brutality in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, several monuments and memorials with historical associations with anti-Black violence—including those celebrating figures who profited from the enslavement of Black people and, in particular, those glorifying the confederacy or confederate generals—have either been toppled by protestors or formally removed by authorities.
The City of Birmingham, Alabama, removed a statue memorializing confederate soldiers and sailors on Monday, June 1, in violation of the Alabama Memorial Preservation Act, which was passed in 2017 specifically to prevent the removal of the monument. Alabama attorney general Steve Marshall subsequently sued the City of Birmingham, claiming the monument was “of independent historical significance.” Birmingham mayor Randall Woodfin told an Alabama news website that he anticipated the $25,000 fine would ultimately cost less than the price of civil unrest.
On Saturday, June 6, three days after Virginia governor Ralph Northam announced the removal of a monument to Robert E. Lee in Richmond, a statue of another confederate general, Williams Carter Whickam, was toppled to the ground around 10:45 pm on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University, where it had been located since 1891.
As of this writing, fifteen monuments and memorials in nine states have been removed, with at least another ten slated for removal. On Sunday, June 7, a statue of Edward Colston, a British merchant who was heavily involved in the transatlantic slave trade, was toppled in Bristol in the United Kingdom and then thrown into the harbor, making it the first monument outside of the United States to be removed as part of these international uprisings.
MINNEAPOLIS—In an Instagram post from Wednesday, June 3, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis announced that the museum will “no longer contract the services of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) until the Minneapolis Police Department implements meaningful change by demilitarizing training programs [and] holding officers accountable for the use of excessive force.” The statement continued, “George Floyd should be alive,” referencing the May 25 murder of George Floyd, a Black man, by Derek Chauvin, a white MPD officer.
Chauvin has subsequently been fired and charged with second-degree felony murder, and the three other officers who were present at the scene have been fired and charged with aiding and abetting second-degree murder. On Sunday, June 8, a veto-proof majority of the Minneapolis City Council announced its intent to disband the Minneapolis Police Department and instead invest in community-led public safety initiatives.
NEW ORLEANS—As part of the museum’s statement released on Tuesday, June 2, “demanding justice and equality in the name of George Floyd,” the staff and board of directors of the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans announced a donation of $10,000 to four local initiatives aimed at supporting civil liberties and fighting to end mass incarceration: VOTE (Voice of the Experienced), ACLU of Louisiana’s campaign to end pretrial incarceration, and the Ashe Cultural Center and Junebug Productions’ Creative Response Artist Relief Funds.
“In the shadow of so much death and surrounded by cries for justice, both staff and board saw an urgent need to share solidarity and funding with our partners working on the frontline to end systemic racism and mass incarceration,” said George Scheer, executive director of the CAC. In these pursuits, our institution looks to artists whose life and art lay bare all the many social and economic disparities so that we may see. Our work ahead is strengthened by our actions today and the clarity that Black Lives Matter.”
Additionally, the museum extended free admission for all visitors through June 14, after which the CAC will close for the installation of its 2020 open call exhibition, Make America What America Must Become.