Places with more Confederate monuments tend to also have a history of more lynchings, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Virginia.
Published by the National Academy of Sciences, the study analyzed county-level lynching data involving Black people from 1832 to 1950. The data showed that the number of lynchings in an area was associated with a higher likelihood that the same area would have Confederate monuments.
“This is not a surprising finding,” said University of Virginia researcher and psychologist Kyshia Henderson, who led the study. “The prediction was always that lynching and memorials would be connected. We made this prediction because we knew the history of lynchings and memorials. Also, scholars and activists have long said that Confederate memorials are associated with hate. We want to provide empirical evidence of that.”
Lynchings, which were used to punish Black Americans primarily through the eras of slavery and Jim Crow, were used as an indicator in the study because they are recognizable forms of violence used to suppress and intimidate Black people.
The research also cited a study that analyzed 30 dedication speeches for Confederate monuments and found that half of them used explicitly racist phrases. Some even mentioned protecting the Anglo-Saxon race.
“For communities grappling with Confederate memorials and what to do with them, this work provides some guidance,” Henderson said.
UVA professor and researcher Sophie Trawalter said in a statement that it is important to note that the data presented in the study is correlational.
"We can't pinpoint exactly the cause and effect. But the association is clearly there," Trawalter said. "At a minimum, the data suggests that localities with attitudes and intentions that led to lynchings also had attitudes and intentions associated with the construction of Confederate memorials."
In 2020, 169 Confederate symbols were removed in the aftermath of the racial reckoning prompted by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other Black people by police. Today, more than 2,000 known Confederate monuments still stand throughout the nation, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
UVA's study and the SPLC's 2019 Whose Heritage report both mark the "Ignite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, held to protest the removal of a Confederate statue, as a significant moment in the battle over Confederate monuments.
"After that event, a lot of people that weren't already engaged in activism surrounding these Confederate memorials began to take notice of these things,” Henderson said.
“It is important to recognize these memorials live in our public spaces and this matters,” she added. "Memorials in our public spaces say something about who is rightful, who is welcomed and who is entitled in these spaces. So what we chose to memorialize in these spaces should matter."