House Bill Would Replace Confederate Monuments Across the U.S.

Proposed legislation to remove Confederate monuments across the U.S. was introduced by Illinois Democratic Representative Bobby Rush on Thursday.

Confederate monuments became the targets of protests against systemic racism and police brutality in the wake of the May death of George Floyd, a Black man who died while in the custody of Minneapolis police officers. Demonstrators defaced and attempted to destroy the statues because of their connection with the American Civil War.

Some lawmakers removed the monuments from public spaces in an effort to prevent further damage. In a Thursday statement, Rush cited the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia where confrontations white nationalists and demonstrators resulted in the death of counterprotester Heather Heyer. Heyer was killed after a self-described white supremacist intentionally drove his vehicle into a crowd.

Rush said the Confederate monuments were "abhorrent commemorative structures, many of which were created long past the conclusion of the Civil War, are located in areas that far exceed the confines of the 11 Confederate States and are a means to uphold Confederate principles and white supremacy. The same white supremacy that led to the death of Heather Heyer and countless others."

"It is past time that we eradicate these totems of treason and replace them with symbols that represent the true promise of America, such as the emancipation of Black Americans," Rush added.

Known as the Rejecting and Eliminating the Foul Use of Symbols Exulting (REFUSE) Confederate Principles Act, Rush wrote that the removal would be conducted with the help of the U.S. National Park Service and would affect over 1,700 Confederate monuments. Those monuments, which Rush called "the false idols of the confederacy," would be replaced by alternative artwork "we can actually be proud of."

confederate monuments
In June, protesters toppled the Jefferson Davis Confederate monument in Richmond, Virginia. Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis/Getty

Under Rush's proposed act, funding for removing the statues would be accomplished through a grant program called the Emancipation Historic Preservation Program. Funding would also be earmarked for storing the monuments by state historical preservation programs for "educational purposes."

In a statement sent to Newsweek on Thursday, the U.S. National Park Service said they agreed with the White House's stance against removing Confederate monuments, which referred to the removal of such structures as "part of a sustained effort to erase from the history of the Nation those who do not meet an ever-shifting standard of conduct."

According to a July report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), nearly 1,800 Confederate symbols are still on display on publicly-owned lands. Out of those symbols, 733 are classified as monuments.

Since Floyd's death, 5 Confederate symbols have been relocated and 33 have been removed, including Mississippi's state flag.

In June, the Mississippi legislature voted to stop flying the flag, which was the final U.S. state flag to feature the Confederate battle symbol. Mississippi House Speaker Philip Gunn, who authored the bill to have the flag removed, said at the time that Mississippians "are better today than we were yesterday."

"We are not betraying our heritage," Gunn added. "We are fulfilling it."

In September, a nine-person commission is expected to make a final decision between two new flag designs. One redesign featured an emblem with red and white stripes against a blue background with a centered star. Mississippi's state flower, the magnolia, is surrounded by a circle of stars on the second flag redesign. Both designs are emblazoned with the phrase, "In God We Trust."

Updated 11:49 p.m. EST 8/27/2020: This story has been updated with a statement from the U.S. National Park Service.