Confederate heritage groups and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) do agree on at least one thing: There is a formal movement afoot to remove all references to all things Confederate from public places across the country.
Earlier this month, the SPLC launched a new initiative called "Erasing Hate," which "aims to identify and eliminate government-sanctioned symbols honoring the Confederacy."
"There are numerous government-sponsored symbols of the Confederacy that are out in the public across the country, and, quite frankly, it's time for them be removed," said SPLC founder Morris Dees. "In Montgomery, Alabama, we have a Robert E. Lee High School that wasn't even named until [Brown v. the Board of Education], the desegregation case. We have government-sponsored holidays honoring Confederate 'heroes'."
Flags, street names, building names, and statues honoring the Confederacy became public targets across the country earlier this year after a white supremacist shot and killed nine African Americans in a church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Last month, the Memphis City Council approved the removal of the Nathan Bedford Forrest statue in Health Sciences Park and to formally change the names of three parks that once carried names honoring the Confederacy.
The SPLC is asking citizens to identify Confederate names, symbols, and statues on public property via an online form with descriptions and photographs. SPLC will use that information to build an interactive map of the sites online. The SPLC has a similar map, the Hate Map, which shows where hate groups are operating across the country.
The Columbia, Tennessee-based Sons of Confederate Veterans (SCV) called the movement a "crisis" for Southern heritage, and "the radical leftists who are driving this crisis are committed to the complete eradication of all things Confederate." The group said moves like this are the "greatest threat to our heritage in modern times" and that "we are in war to save American culture."
To battle the movement, the SCV has established a "Heritage Defense Fund" on a fund-raising webpage. On the site, Tom Strain, SCV lieutenant commander in chief, said the group is "actively fending off its detractors, but we need your help" to "fight to defend the Confederate soldier's good name." As of Monday, 373 donors had given more than $40,000 to the fund.
"Don't think these folks will be satisfied with just Confederate memorials," the fund-raising site says. "Many of these same ideologues have just as negative a view of our Revolutionary War heroes and the United States flag."
Confederate flags were proudly waved last month at Forrest's statue in Health Sciences Park during a rally that organizers hoped would change the city council's vote on the statue's removal.
Lee Millar, leader of the Memphis SCV, said removing the statue was a "waste of time" and that it would do "nothing to resolve crime and gangs and all of that."
"It just adds to the division in Memphis," Millar said. "Why take away a Civil War statue? Why erase Memphis history? Everybody's history should be appreciated and understood and acknowledged."