President Trump on Tuesday seemed to speak out against moves being taken by many cities and states to remove statues and monuments honoring the Confederacy, calling on the country to “build upon our heritage, not tear it down.”
Speaking during a ceremony where he signed an executive order on police reform, Trump’s comments come at a time when the country is going through a reckoning over racial injustice following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
Statues and monuments to Confederate soldiers and slave owners have been toppled – or are in the process of being torn down – not only across the country, but across the globe.
“Americans can achieve anything when we work together as one national family to go forward, we must seek cooperation, not confrontation,” Trump said. “We must build upon our heritage, not tear it down. And we must cherish the principles of America’s founding as we strive to deliver safe, beautiful, elegant justice and liberty for all.”
Trump’s sentiments, however, are not shared by a number of lawmakers – both Democrat and Republican – across the country.
Earlier this month, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced that the state will remove an iconic statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from Richmond’s prominent Monument Avenue.
The Lee statue is one of five Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue in Richmond – the former capital of the Confederacy. It has been the target of vandalism during protests in recent days over Floyd’s death. The base of it was covered this week with graffiti, including messages that say “end police brutality” and “stop white supremacy.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also announced plans to remove the other Confederate monuments along Monument Avenue, which include statues of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and Confederate Gens. Stonewall Jackson and J.E.B. Stuart. Those statues sit on city land, unlike the Lee statue, which is on state property.
While in Alexandria, Va., work crews have taken down a bronze statue of a Confederate soldier named “Appomattox” after years of calls for its removal, while in Birmingham, Ala., authorities began pulling down a five-story-tall obelisk to Confederate troops that has stood for more than a century.
The obelisk has also been vandalized by protestors and another monument to the Confederacy — a statue of former Confederate officer Charles Linn — was toppled during the protests over the weekend.
That movement to remove Confederate monuments first entered the national consciousness following the violent clash between white supremacists and counter-protestors over the planned removal of a different Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, but cities and states have long been struggling about what to do with them.
Following the 2015 massacre on nine people in Charleston, S.C., by white supremacist Dylann Roof, Maryland’s Montgomery County executive decided to remove a Confederate monument in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Rockville. The 13-ton statue of the Confederate soldier, which had stood in the town since 1913, was transferred to White’s Ferry, a privately run Potomac River ferry named after a Confederate general.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.