Date of Award

Spring 5-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Director

Timothy J. Orr

Committee Member

Marvin Chiles

Committee Member

Elizabeth Fretwell


Between the years 2015 and 2020, over 300 Confederate symbols, including over 140 monuments, were removed from public land across the United States. This unprecedented movement to discard Confederate symbols reflected a shift in how Americans chose to remember the Civil War. By 2015, the wide-spread attack on the legacy of the Confederacy was much-anticipated. In fact, its foundation was laid during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. This thesis fills a gap within the historiography of Civil War memory by exploring controversial events that reflect Americans’ contrasting interpretation of the American Civil War from the years 1993 to 2021. It argues that the attack on Confederate symbols is truly an attack on white supremacy. Further, the battle against Confederate symbolism is a continuation of the struggle for civil rights. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) attacked the legacy of the Confederacy to start a national discourse concerning America’s racist past and to eradicate white supremacy. In doing so, it became an active agent for change in minimizing public displays of the Confederate flag. The children and grandchildren of the civil rights era continued the legacy of their forbearers, demonstrating that, despite the optimistic belief that the war against white supremacy was won after the Voting Rights Act had been passed, the war was just heating up.

The war against Confederate symbols fit neatly within the folds of America’s two-party system. This thesis argues that the memory of the Civil War, starting in the early 1990s, became a highly contested political battlefield. Republicans used it as a mechanism to stir up votes by making it appear as if their opponents were erasing white culture. Democrats supported the removal of Confederate emblems in order to placate their constituents as they argued it was the best way to recognize America’s darker past without celebrating it. While politicians debated the issue, grassroots activism yielded the most tangible results. The NAACP, and more recently, the Black Lives Matter movement, attacked Confederate symbolism to shift the national debate to focus on contemporary issues posed by white supremacy and systemic racism.


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